Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tails of Survival, Part 3,

[These tails will be posted later tonight or early tomorrow a.m., including excuses for the bad pun.] It's now May 1, and here's my story:
Around a month ago, I saw my first lizard of the season, a Western Skink, part way up Mt. Hough where there was still plenty of snow on the ground. As we looked around for a dry, snowless spot to eat our lunches, I noticed there were localized spots that were much warmer than the overall surroundings. The vegetation in these spots was a little further along in development than the species on most parts of the mountain. I realized I was looking at some micro-habitats where windbreaks and other phenomena allow the arrival of spring to occur much earlier. So, my habit of tipping over rocks and small logs kicked in. Almost immediately, I saw a young Western Skink, brown overall with a bright blue tail. I didn't touch it, but in moving around several times to get a good photograph, I apparently startled it enough that after I got a couple of good photos, it dropped its tail and disappeared down a hole. I felt terrible. I was taking care not to molest the lizard, but I had uncovered it at its most vulnerable time. This capacity to quickly release its tail, which tends to continue to twitch for a while so predators might attack it instead of the lizard, is an amazing survival mechanism. Problem is, it takes so much energy and a bit of time to grow a new tail, it lacks that same protection for a while and may not have enough energy to reproduce that season.
Last weekend, I uncovered the same species of lizard in a pile of rocks near the Nelson Creek bridge on LaPorte Road. I wasn't able to get a photo, but I saw the lizard disappear down a hole with its tail intact. I left it alone. Yesterday, back at the same spot, I saw what I believe was the same lizard in the same pile of rocks (top two photos) and got pretty good photos before she disappeared again. In the photos you can see that she has lost and regrown her tail. Thus my title, Tails of Survival.
The third photo is of a Western Fence Lizard or Blue-belly that for some reason was not at all shy. Near the Greenville Y, lots of these were scurrying out from underfoot and disappearing into cracks in the rocks to escape me, the giant predator, but this one stayed still in the sun long enough for me to get several close-ups. I came within a foot and it didn't run away! That makes me think its survival instincts aren't as strong as his fellow lizards and if it had been a hawk or fox instead of me, he'd be a goner. These lizards can drop their tails, too, but not quite so readily. They have other means of protection, including a pretty good bite when needed.
Other critters with interesting survival modes that we saw near Nelson Creek include a centipede which can sting and has tails that look like antennae. A would-be predator has a 50-50 chance of dealing with the wrong end. Next, a wolf spider that lives mostly under rocks and logs and chases down its prey on the ground. No need for a web. These critters have pretty good camouflage. Last, a butterlfy which flashes bright blue while flying, but holds its wings together over its back when landing. The undersides of the wings are a dusky grey with spots causing them to blend in well with the sandy or gravelly areas where they stop to drink from puddles. I'm guessing this one is a Boisduval's Blue, but there are so many look-alikes (to me) in this category of butterflies that I'm not confident of my ID.

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