Monday, May 17, 2010

Leapin' Lizards

With southern Idaho finally experiencing warmer temperatures, lizards have become quite visible. You might catch a glimpse of one scurrying across a trail, or sunning itself on a rock.

Ten lizard species live in Idaho. With the exception of the northern alligator lizard--which prefers cool, moist forests--all thrive in arid, sagebrush-covered habitat.

You'll most commonly encounter the Western fence lizard (pictured above), with a mottled brown back and blue belly. They can be seen on rocky slopes, around abandoned buildings, and yes, on fence posts.

Their propensity to sun themselves render them vulnerable to predators like raptors, which is why they've evolved lightning-fast reflexes--a trait familiar to anyone who has tried to catch one.

At this time of year, males fiercely defend their territory (a whopping .01 acre). Soon females will lay a brood of ten eggs.

Fence lizards also possess a nice quality that benefits humanity: They reduce Lyme disease. When ticks feed on lizards, a protein in the lizard's blood kills the bacteria that cause the disease. In areas with large lizard populations, less people are infected with Lyme disease.

But do lizards face an uncertain future? A recent study, published in the journal Science, suggests many lizard species may be seriously threatened by climate change.

The study in Mexico found that when faced with a warming climate, lizards spend less time hunting and more time in the shade. This weakens their condition and leads to a population reduction.

The scientists who authored the article also wrote an editorial, in which they state "extinctions are not only in the future, but are happening now." Hopefully studies like this inspire conservationists to take action--for lizards and other species that are an important part of Idaho.

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