Lizards sometimes appear to be artefacts from a bygone world, but many are more dynamic than we may think. This week, we take a look at some reptiles that are doting parents, bloody brilliant, and just plain adorable.
SOLOMON ISLAND SKINK
As cold-blooded creatures, reptiles' body temperature is dependent on their environment. That’s why you might see a Florida alligator sunning itself like a tourist.
The Solomon Islands skink, also known as a prehensile-tailed skink, has some very unusual reptilian behaviours. - PHOTOGRAPH BY ZIGMUND LESZCZYNSKI, ANIMALS ANIMALS, EARTH SCENES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Most of us think of reptiles as cold in demeanour, too—aloof and solitary. But the Solomon Island skink “lives in little social groups, which is really, really rare for lizards,” says Nassima Bouzid, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington.
Most reptiles lay many eggs and abandon them, but these tree-dwelling skinks give birth to live young and care for them as long as “six months to a year—exactly what you would think would happen with a mammal,” Bouzid says.
They’re also the largest skinks in the world—nearly three feet long, tail included.
Talk about blood-shot eyes. When threatened, the horned lizard of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico can shoot arcs of blood from their eye sockets. (Read about an overachieving lizard that grew three tails.)
Ideally, the lizards squirt when they're in the jaws of a predator—such as a kit fox—to ensure they hit their target, says herpetologist Wade Sherbrooke, former director of the Southwest Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History.
These sanguinary sprinklers use this defence only on members of the dog and cat families, like coyotes or bobcats, but not on birds or reptiles. So why would a little blood bother a hungry carnivore?
Sherbrooke likens it to having a little Worcestershire sauce on a steak, versus a glass of it. The concentrated blood, not mixed with other things, would be off-putting.
A side-blotched lizard from the orange—and most aggressive variety—seems to pose in southern California. - PHOTOGRAPH BY KENT KOBERSTEEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Of the three colours, orange-throated males are larger and more aggressive, giving them domain over more territory and harems of females.
Blue-throated males work together to defend smaller territories, guarding their few mates closely. Yellow males, called “sneakers,” creep into orange male territory and mate with unguarded females. (Read about the best liars in the animal kingdom.)
A 2010 study showed that the three colours have been around for millions of years, with the dominant colour changing every few years. If a colour type fades out, the yellow lizards are the first to go.
The six species of these living Pokémon don’t actually fly, but glide through the treetops thanks to skin flaps on their body, limbs, and webbed toes.
A Kuhl's flying gecko leaps toward a tree using its special skin flaps. - PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM LAMAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
The shingleback skink may not look like it knows if it's coming or going, but having a similar-looking head and tail is a mighty helpful defence mechanism. (Read about the art of deception in National Geographic magazine.)
The shingleback lizard puts on a defensive display in Australia. - PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL AND PATRICIA FOGDEN, MINDEN PICTURES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
“Predators go for the head because that’s how you disable prey,” says Sherbrooke—so having what looks like two can confuse predators.
Not only that, but if "somebody bites your ass it’s a lot better than if they bite your head,” Sherbrooke says.
And there’s your weekday wisdom.