Here in Italy we live with the sweetest and shyest little lizards, called ‘lucertole‘ (prounounced loo-chair’-toe-lay). In fact, I just took one from our interior stairs and released him outside. They look like this:
Of course in America everything must be Bigger – including the lizards. These fellows, called chuckwallas, live in the rock pile outside our house in Arizona. They are absent in the winter, sleeping in their stony nests, but in the spring they come out to bask in the sun and engage in other typical spring behavior.
In all fairness, we see plenty of smaller lizards in Arizona, as well, most of them a dull brown and moving so fast it is impossible to get a photograph. And, according to Wikipedia, most of the lizards are cousins to one another and share many traits. Like the lucertole, the chuckwallas are very shy and don’t let us get close with a camera.
The chuckwalla’s tail looks like we should be able to count the rings on it to determine his age, but I don’t think that’s true. It also looks like it should unscrew and come off; it probably does come off, though we’ve never seen that. The little lucertole frequently do lose their tails It’s part of a defense mechanism when they are attacked by predators. They can sharply contract a muscle which detaches the tail without loss of blood. The predator thinks the still twitching tail is the animal; the lucertola stays very still until the predator has left with the tail. The tail stops twitching after a time, but by then the rest of the lucertola has run away. Every summer we have a whole sub-family of lucertole living around the house that are nick-named Stumpy. Their tails do grow back, but never completely, which tends to leave them with an unfinished look.
There’s something about seeing a lizard, so prehistoric, timeless and ancient in appearance, that makes us feel humble, and maybe even a little smaller than the animals we are watching.