THE GREAT LIZARD HUNT: May 25, 2019

You read the date correctly!  Three and a half hours in the desert in the middle of what is referred to as Tucson’s “Pre-Summer.”  This is normally one of the hottest and driest times of the year.  Thanks to Sharon Overstreet for predicting a beautiful day and arranging this Advanced Training.

(16) Master Naturalists from all three cohorts met Sabino Canyon, volunteer naturalist Fred Heath at 0815.  Fred provided laminated lizard identification cards and (as needed) binoculars.  He then shared over three hours of incredible insight into both the flora and fauna of the bajada running from the visitor center to just above the Sabino dam.

Cohort 1:  Deb Petrich, Don Eagle, Janel Feierband, Franklin Lane
Cohort 2:  Sharon Overstreet, Carrie Barcom, Penny Miller, Joan Colcagno, Emily Bennett, Barbara Rose Gaynor
Cohort 3:  Karen Vandergift, Vicki Ettleman, Monica Wnuk, Kathy Carter McLin, Hank Harlow, Josh Skattum

lizard walk group pic

Within the first hundred meters or so we spotted our first Zebra-tailed Lizard: Callisaurus draconoides.  In addition to the distinctive tail, often raised scorpion-like over the body to

distract predators, Fred pointed out that the males also have two, dark, stripe-like markings behind the fore-legs.  They are from 2.5” to 4” long and measured, like all lizards, only from snout to vent.

Of the four common “whiptails” found in the area we saw several Tigers; Aspidoscelis tigris.

Our handout indicated that in addition to the tigris the habitat includes:
Gila Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis flagellicauda   (all female)
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis sonorae   (all female)
Canyon Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis burti

Several individuals were happy to pose for pictures and were seemingly undisturbed by our gawking.  Penny Miller was able to capture a number of great pictures.

penny1

Desert Spiney; Sceloporous magister                                                             P. Miller

penn2

Greater Earless; Cophosaurus texanus                                                           P. Miller

The last two species that I personally saw were a Common Side-blotched; Uta stansburiana and an Ornate Tree Lizard; Urosaurus ornatus, which our venerable host pointed out is unique in that it does a four-legged pushup.  No slacker there!

Finally, because they are almost gone for the year, I should mention that we saw several Iron Cross Blister Beetles; Tegrodera aloga.  Perhaps one of the most easily recognizable beetles in the desert but usually only seen during late Spring (April) and pre-Summer (May).  Their emergence roughly corresponding to the high bloom time of Palo Verdes.

franklin1

While I have failed to completely collaborate their life cycle, as Fred described, with other sources, I am confident enough in it (and him) to share it here.  After mating, the female deposits her eggs at the base of a Palo Verde flower.  When the eggs hatch the larvae attach themselves to visiting bees who then transport them back to (normally) solitary, burrowed nests.  Once in their new home the grubs feed on the stored nectar and pollen as well as the eggs of the bee; fattening and growing in order to emerge the following Spring.  Please let me know if you have any more insight on this phenology or on Tegrodera aloga itself.

Article submitted by Franklin Lane, Cohort 1, Certified Master Naturalist

RareCollaredLizard

Photos below submitted from Penny Miller

ZebratailSonoranSpottedWhiptail

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