Skip to content

Out There: Little Lizards

By columnist Ed McMackin
The length of this tail-less Northern Alligator Lizard is about 9 cm. With a tail, it might have been 18 cm. East shore of Duck Lake, June 1990. (Photo by Ed McMackin)

By columnist Ed McMackin

The average Northern Alligator Lizard is 12 to 15 centimetres long. However, they may grow to reach a length of 20 cm., which can be a bit intimidating for some people, who aren’t thinking lizards can be found this far north.

But no fear, they bite only to the point of holding on, when a pair are courting or copulating, as the male holds the female. They have no teeth or fangs. The same goes for the Western Skink, a much smaller lizard, which has a brilliant blue tail until it gets older or until it sheds.

Creston Valley lizards don’t chase after anything larger than themselves, like humans. They are certainly not like commodores or alligators, that can do a lot of damage with their tail. Our two little lizards are the first to run and hide, under vegetation, rocks or under logs. Our lizards are eaten by ravens, hawks, weasels, and other larger carnivores and scavengers. If they don’t get eaten they might escape without a tail.

The tail severs easily when grabbed, but a new tail will replace the old. However, that takes a few years and when it does grow back, it never looks the same as the original. Outside of having legs, lizards are very much like snakes. But one difference is that lizards have eyelids to blink and shut their eyes. Snakes have a membrane instead, which protects the eyes and keeps them moist, while at the same time, they are still able to see.

Northern Alligator Lizards consume a lot of insects, both mature and immature forms. The same goes for the Western Skink, and the more southern Fence Lizard. They grab the prey in their mouth as they lurch forward, almost quicker than a human eye can detect. I am not sure what they would do if a fly lit on the end of the nose.

Most lizards lay eggs which hatch inside the female or hatch externally. I would think that lizard species, where the eggs hatch externally, would be found much farther south where warmer weather would incubate the eggs more readily than cooler more northern regions.

So when can these lizards be seen? Some people would rather not see lizards at all. But we need to be realistic and get used to the reality that we will have lizards around as long as the environment supports them. Anyway, we won’t see the Northern Alligator Lizard anytime soon, at least not until spring comes to life out there. Remember that lizards, like many of their reptile relatives, are cold blooded. Let’s see what happens when things warm up!

Now for some catching up. There was standing room only at the recent Kootenay Lake - Creston Valley Wildflower Show (Part 1). Part II is scheduled to be shown Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Creston Library with two new presenters. Part III is expected to follow in March. Come out to learn more about Creston Valley wildflowers.