Friday, July 25, 2008

Name That Lizard

Quick! What's that on the screen?

What are the dogs barking at in the rosebushes?

What's leaping off the rock at the Santa Rosa Plateau?

And for God's sake, what's running through the living room?

(OK, that last photo was not taken by me and not taken in my living room. It was taken (and is copyrighted to) Gary Nafis, who runs the fun, informative website

But that last lizard--a Skilton's skink--was my first real intro to herpetological life in Temecula.

It was January 2007, and we had just moved here from cold, snowy, and lizard-free CT. So the long wiggly snake-like thing with a bright blue posterior half running through my living room caught me, shall we say, off guard. It darted across the living room and under the couch. When I went to investigate (at that point I had no idea what it was, though "snake" was the top contender), it ran back across the room toward the patio door. But when I went to open the door to let it out, it veered away from me and scuttled under the desk.

Needless to say, I was perplexed.

So just when I had decided to simply leave the door open and walk away (remember the winter of 2007? It was cold. For Temecula.), it shot past me and found freedom by running *under the closed door*. Note to self: Replace weather-stripping.

A frantic Google search led me to, and I've turned to them ever since each time I find a new reptile in the backyard. The site is well-organized by type (snake, lizard, turtle, frog, salamander) and has loads of details and photos, which makes it a great site for kids. What a lovely lizard, Johnny, go look it up on

The kids think this sort of sleuthing is high forensic drama.

They helped me identify the foot-long San Diego Alligator Lizard in the rosebushes above. The little guy on the screen (sagebrush lizard?) was much less imposing at maybe 3 inches tip-to-tail. And I'm particularly proud of the mid-air shot of the sagebrush lizard (again, a guess, they're fast) because it was taken my 7 YO daughter.

Calherps is also great for snake ID--I was able to identify the California Kingsnake in my neighbor's backyard (and then convince her not to kill it by pointing out that it's a rattlesnake predator) and the California striped racer I saw on a jog.

Check out next time you find a desert reptile in your backyard. You just may learn something.

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