My son got a gecko for Christmas and named him Binx.
He has always had a fascination with lizards in the wild. Many parents who send their kids to Durango Nature Studies’ summer camps can share in this common bond.
Lizards are a draw. When we first brought Binx home, he was covered with vibrant colors, but as the days passed, he began to fade into a milky, dull version of himself. Then, of course, he shed his skin and promptly ate it, showing off his vibrant new colors.
It’s impossible for me not to think of change when I look at a lizard. Going through changes that include new surroundings, new jobs and new friends all make us feel shiny and new for a little while. Then, of course, this newness wears off, along with the energy that comes with it.
Nature has a way of forcing lizards to change as they grow. With humans, it’s much more subtle. Change will happen, often when we least expect it. The challenge is to keep our vibrant colors, knowing what now seems commonplace was once exciting.
Geckos are not native to Colorado, but to India, Iran and Pakistan. However, two favorites at the Nature Center are the collared lizard and the horned lizard (popularly called a horned toad).
Collared lizards are predatory and will eat prey with vertebrates, such as mammals and other lizards. They need lots of room to run and have the advantage of being able to run on their hind legs. They have been known to run at speeds as fast as 16 miles an hour.
A horned lizard is much more rounded, giving it its nickname. It has spines on its back and sides, which are really modified scales. However, the horns on its head are real horns because they have a bony core. In opposition to the predatory nature of the collared lizards, horned lizards sit quietly and wait, feeding mostly on harvester ants and other insects.
Because they are not runners, they have some interesting survival techniques. They are able to squirt an aimed stream of blood from the corners of their eyes. This blood tastes foul to predators and also confuses them. Their body does this by restricting the blood flow leaving their head, which increases blood pressure and ruptures blood vessels around the eyes.
Both of these lizards are amazing examples of different adaptations that have developed over time. As far as the skin goes, lizards grow, but their skin doesn’t (hence the shedding). Again, sometimes nature gives us symbolic examples of what we, as humans should strive for. I suppose eating the skin could symbolize moving forward without regrets.
Regardless of these ponderings, lizards remain one of the most exciting things to look for scurrying or sunning themselves around the rocks. As we start thinking about spring school programs and summer camps at the Nature Center, it’s impossible not to think about lizards and the possibility of change.
sally@durangonature studies.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.