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Reptiles of the Sonoran Desert

I wanted to share some of my favorite reptiles that i find at Elaine’s house in Tucson. The Sonoran Desert has the most awesome reptiles.  here are just a few.

 

Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) is a slender nonvenomous snake with variable coloring to help in camouflage. In Tucson, coachwhips that are pink to red in color are called red racers. The pattern on the scales give the snake a braided look like an old-time leather coach whip. Their large eyes provide good eyesight. In times of trouble, they prefer to rapidly slither away (considered one of the fastest snakes) but, if cornered, they will rise up, hiss, vibrate the tip of its tail to simulate the sound of a rattlesnake, and strike quickly and repeatedly. The coachwhip is associated with several Western fables. One is that the snake bites onto its own tail to form a hoop, then rolls in pursuit of its prey. Another is that a coachwhip will chase a person, coil around him, and then lash him to death with its tail. The snake checks the person for life by inserting its tail into the person’s nose. If the person isn’t dead, the snake will continue the lashing. Of course, none of these stories is true.

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large, stocky lizard of southwestern Arizona that eats insects, arachnids, small lizards, and some plants. The overlapping gray and brown scales are pointed and keeled. The male’s body features a purple stripe near the neck.

 

This is Zoe.

 

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) This tortoise has adapted to the extreme environment of the Sonoran Desert. The tortoise has powerful limbs covered with thick scaly skin for digging underground burrows where it spends much of its time. It eats a wide variety of plants including many that are indigestible to other animals. It feeds most actively during the monsoon season, and is dormant much of the rest of the year. The tortoise stores water in its bladder, allowing it to go up to a year without drinking. As a defense mechanism, the tortoise will empty its bladder to discourage a predator, like other reptiles. Unfortunately, this can deplete its water supply and result in death during a drought. For this reason, it is important to never pick up or interfere with a desert tortoise. The gravest danger to the desert tortoises is human-caused mortality. The scientific name honors Joseph Morafka for his work with tortoises.

 

 

 

Baby Rattles

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) This snake is known for its distinctive rattle when threatened. The keratin rattle mechanism at the tip of the tail twitches up to 100 times per second. The dark diamond-shaped pattern on its back identifies this common Tucson rattler. Rattlesnakes belong to a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers, and are found in a wide range of habitats. The pits, located between the nostrils and the eyes, are used in sensing the heat of other animals, and are sensitive enough to detect a body only a fraction of a degree warmer than the ambient air. Rattlers usually hunt at night, preferring small nocturnal mammals. Rattlesnakes are important in controlling the populations of disease-carrying rodents.

Birds of the Sonoran Desert

Hello! You know curly-tail lizards like me enjoy arid landscapes, so I’m up in Arizona exploring the Sonoran Desert. My friend Elaine wrote a book about some of the plants, animals and minerals entitled “How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird.” It’s a lot of fun. So after reading her book, I went out in search of some of the things Elaine had mentioned in her book.  She has all of them in her own backyard. Today, I’m going to share some of the birds with you.  I can’t share them all because she way too many, everything from small hummingbirds to birds of prey , like the Cooper’s and Harris Hawks.  All are welcome.

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) This medium-sized hummingbird is found along the Pacific Coast and into the desert Southwest. It is the only hummingbird that remains in the West during the winter.  Named after Princess Anna de Belle Massena, an Anna’s is identified by its iridescent emerald feathers and bright pink gorget, or throat feathers.

 

 

 

 

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) This common woodpecker in southern Arizona is often seen on Saguaro cactus. They have a distinctive horizontally barred black-and-white back with a plain brown head. The male’s head is adorned with a red crown patch. They excavate nests in saguaros and mesquite trees, and the abandoned cavities are later used by a variety of other animals.

I always knew when the woodpeckers were around because of their loud, raucous call.

 

I was watching the various birds who were gathered around Elaine’s many feeders when this incredible orange bird burst onto the scene.

Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) These spectacularly colored orioles have yellow-orange bodies and black faces and wings. The medium-sized birds are known to drink from hummingbird feeders, even when doing so requires acrobatics. Nests are sewn to the underside of overhanging large leaves, such as palm fronds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite birds are the quail. The chicks hatched at different times all summer long.  They looked like little gray cotton balls with legs.

Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) These plump, ground-dwelling birds of the desert Southwest are named after William Gambel. The bluish-gray birds are easily identified by the feather plume on their heads. Quail use camouflage to avoid their many predators. The average lifespan is a year and a half. The chicks are prococial, leaving the nest to follow and feed with their parents within hours after hatching.

Come to the desert.  It’s filled with wonderful birds.

 

My YouTube Channel! Curtis Curly-tail Speaks

 

 

 

Yes, I, Curtis Curly-tail, the perfect curly-tail lizard of the Bahamas, have my own You Tube Channel! Now, lizards of the world have a voice of their own. My friends, Elaine A. Powers and Anderson Atlas, made it possible.  Elaine told me to tell you it was mostly Anderson.

What will you see on my channel? Conversations with lizards, live videos of interesting nature stuff, and maybe excerpts from my books! Each episode will be an adventure.

So, start viewing at https://youtu.be/PVnMdpi5cog.

People and Their Photography

Could you hold on for a moment, I just want to get this shot? No, not really, but that’s what I hear people say all the time.  What is it about taking photographs that people find so fascinating?  Yes, I do enjoy being photographed myself. I pose on a rock so they get my good side, but then again both of my sides are good sides.  I curl my tail up perfectly.  That seems to be important to the person, a perfectly curled tail.

But not all animals seem to enjoy being photographed.  They fly or run off.  But that doesn’t stop the people from pursuing them! People run or stumble across rocks, push their way through thorny bushes or dive own into water.  The one I simply can’t believe is when they stand in the middle of busy roads, oblivious to the cars and trucks swerving around them. My cousins on Cayman Brac, the Lime Lizard Lads, can tell you all about avoiding cars so you don’t get squished.

Most curly-tails I know run for the rocks when people approach.  Actually, they run when anything that might be a predator approaches.  It’s just good sense. Better to be safe than eaten. But some animals seem to enjoy playing the pursuit game with people. This seems particularly true of hummingbirds. Maybe they know their superior speed and agility will allow them to evade any human that might mean them harm.  Maybe they’re a bit vain and know they’re attractive to people.  Maybe they just like to play games.  Spending your day sipping and flitting could get boring.  Although they visit a lot of flowers and I’ve always enjoyed that.

Once I’ve allowed people sufficient photos of me, I climb on a branch and watch them try to photograph a hummingbird. The hummer, that’s my nickname for hummingbirds, will fly in front of the person, flash his gorget, that’s the name of his throat feather, and hover. That excites the person. Up comes the camera and off flies the hummer.  The chase is on. The hummers this way and then that. The person pursues.  The hummers stops to sit on a branch, but only until the camera is raised and the button about to push, then off he flits away again. Personally, I would give up the chase after a few minutes, but the people are a determined bunch.  They chase the hummer and they chase the hummer. I know that this happens both in the desert and on islands, like here in the Bahamas.

Sadly, most people don’t get the photograph. I wonder, instead of searching through the lens of a camera, why don’t the people just watch the hummer and make a memory instead?

More about Roadrunners

I wanted to share a bit more information about roadrunners with you. One thing Elaine didn’t include in the book is the sound that roadrunners make. So I offered to talk about it. She didn’t mind. You probably know the “meep-meep” from the cartoon version of the roadrunner, but this is not how they sound. Roadies actually make a variety of sounds. Males make a coo-coo-cooing call to communicate territory situation to other males. There are single note coos, low pitched growls and short, snap barks. Quite the repertoire.

This roadrunner is exposing his dark skin patch to the sun to warm up on a cool morning.

 

 

The roadrunner’s dark skin patch is mentioned in her book.  Elaine saw a roadie warming himself and was able to photograph him.

 

 

 

 

 

Salt glands

One thing I’m curious about are the roadrunners’ salt glands. Most of us get rid of our extra salt through urinating after the kidneys concentrate it.  But that method requires a lot of water.  When roadrunners need to get rid of extra salt, the use a gland in front of each eye.  This a water saving mechanism. This reminds me of the way iguanas sneeze out their excess salt. It’s nice when reptiles and birds have similarities, don’t you think?

 

Humans seem to think roadrunners are great to have around; we lizards have a different opinion.  Roadrunners eat a lot of lizards!  Our advice to the roadies, is eat more snakes.

Horned Lizards and Roadrunners

My friend Elaine wrote a book about roadrunners. It’s filled with lots of interesting facts but several were of particular interest to me, such as how the roadies eat horned lizards. Now I’m not in favor of eating lizards, but at least the horned lizards don’t go down without a fight. These lizards have some incredible horns on them that prevent many animals from eating them, especially the predators that must swallow their prey whole. The lizards use their backs as shields to repel the attacks. These impressive horns can puncture tissue. Innards can get punctured by them. That gives many predators pause, but not the roadrunner. Fearless hunters that they are, mere horns won’t stop them in pursuit of a meal.

However, eating a horned lizard requires skill. Swallowing the protruding horns can damage the bird’s insides. If the horns are facing inward, internal organs can be punctured and the bird might be killed. So roadies carefully turn the horned lizard so the horns face outward before swallowing. The esophagus may still be punctured but it is not fatal to the roadrunner.

I’m sure glad roadrunners don’t live in the Bahamas. A curly-tail like me would slide right down their throats. Even though roadrunners sound like interesting creatures, I’m rooting for my cousins, the horned lizard. fun fact: did you know that these marvelous lizards were called Horned Toads. That’s right, toads, like the amphibians. People are so silly at times.

Trip to Cayman Brac

Whew!  Hello!  I’m back.  Did you miss me? LOL. I do apologize for the tardiness of this entry.  I’ve been traveling and not just aboard boats!  I know I’ve told you about traveling between the cays in the Bahamas but this time I traveled west to the Cayman Islands.  Unlike the Bahamas with its many islands, the Caymans only have a few.  The ones that humans live on are Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.  Brac means bluff and refers to the high bluff in the center of the island.  Little Cayman is so named because it’s the smallest island.  Not very creative, I know.  I’ve told you about my new iguana friend, Allison, in my book, Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped!  She’s an Andros Island iguana, Cyclura cychlura cychlura. Andros is the biggest island in the Bahamas but not many people live there.  With so many islands, the Bahamas have 7 kinds of iguanas.  The Cayman Islands only have 2 types.  The most famous is the Blue Iguana found on Grand Cayman, Cyclura lewisi.  They are really the most amazing sky blue.  They were almost lost to extinction but some hard working humans created the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and their numbers are starting to climb. This doesn’t mean they are out of danger but it is a skitter in the right direction.  You should visit them at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park if you’re ever on Grand Cayman.

But I was more interested in the less known Sister Island Rock Iguanas (SIRI), Cyclura nubila caymanensis.  They’ve also been called the Lesser Caymans Iguana but there is nothing lesser about them.  They’re said to be a subspecies of the Cuban Rock iguana, Cyclura nubila. Cuba is the big island just a little ways to the north.  The SIRI are endemic to only the Sister Islands.  Little Cayman has a fairly large population but Cayman Brac’s iguanas are having a tough time surviving.  Along with the usual human-caused problems we lizards have to endure, habitat destruction and feral pets, the iguanas on Brac have a high road mortality.  Because the iguanas enjoy the warm smooth roads, they are at risk for being run over by cars.  Sadly, over the last few years many of the local iguanas have died this way.

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My friend Bonnie, asked me to help her spread the word the iguanas being needlessly killed.  You know me, I’m always perfectly willing to help in causes like this.  She had some terrific photos of iguanas both live and dead – I prefer the live ones myself.  Then my friend Anderson, who did some great drawings of me, filled in the blanks.  The book turned out great and I hope it helps not only to educate people but tugs at their conscience.  Every time an iguana is senselessly killed, a part of the future dies.

But there are some people who wonder about the value of the iguanas.  Did you know that many plants, require the help of the iguanas to germinate and grow?  Yes, it’s true. When seeds pass through the iguana after being eaten, they germinate faster.  The iguanas also help with the seed dispersal because it’s hard to make such large active lizards stay in one place.  I’ve heard they go up the bluff then down the bluff then up the bluff then – well, you get the idea.  And it may be that not just any iguana will do.  Many places have introduced the Green Iguana, Iguana iguana, into rock iguanas’ territories.  Some research suggests that passing through the Green’s gut does not help the plants found in the rock iguanas’ territory.  Only the right iguana will do.  This makes sense since many of the plants evolved along with the iguanas.  More studies are being done.

So, I’m helping Bonnie with her mission to save her Brac iguanas.  They’ve put up some signs reminding people that there are iguanas on the road so they’ll slow down and maybe stop texting.  She’s telling them about the dangers of letting their pets run loose.  Iguanas didn’t evolve with large mammalian predators so they don’t know that dogs and cats are dangerous.  They think they are just friends they haven’t met yet.  So sad when they realize their mistake too late.  Then there’s the habitat destruction with the iguanas’ dens being buried during construction.  And lastly poison.  Some of the rat poison is the same color as some of the iguanas’ favorite flowers.  Of course, the rats and mice were introduced by people, too.  So many dangers have come along with people.  But people can also solve these problems and I’m hoping the people on Brac working to help the iguanas succeed.  Like the blue iguanas on Grand Cayman, the Brac rock iguanas can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

If you want to see the book, it is called Silent Rocks.  Bonnie’s photos are wonderful.

Pages from silent rocks cover art-printfile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m headed home to rest and relax in my perfect den.  Come visit me on Warderick Wells or any of the other Caribbean islands with their magnificent rock iguanas.

Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped!

Next up is my tale about being kidnapped by poachers.  You’ll get to meet a few more of my native Bahamian friends.  You’ll also get to meet some enemies of the plants and animals of The Bahamas.  If you want to boo them while you’re reading the book, go ahead.

Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped deals with poaching, the illegal “taking” of plants and animals.  People poach for a couple of different reasons: to collect for  their personal use, like the pet trade, or for eating.

You’ll meet Allison Iguana.  She’s an Andros Island Rock Iguana (Cyclura cychlura cychlura).  Andros Rock Igs are big gorgeous lizards, with bright red heads.  But, the Andros iguana is only one of 7 types of rock iguanas found in the Bahamas.  Talk about an embarrassment of riches.  All the iguanas are very attractive, a little on the large size for my taste being a much smaller perfect-sized curly-tail, but the humans are attracted to them.  They take the iguanas home to make pets out of them.  Sadly, a few end up as meals.  If you want to eat an iguana stick with the green iguanas (Iguana iguana), they are being raised on ranches for food. Or head to Florida, where they don’t belong and are making pests of themselves.  Greens lay lots of eggs and grow really quickly.  Rock iguanas only lay a few eggs and live a long time. But back to the Bahamas: many lizards, birds, etc. are very attractive and people want to take them home with them, sort of as a reminder of their visit to the Bahamas.  We, the residents of The Bahamas, would rather you come and visit us in our homes.  Then when you go home, take photographs or even drawings.  We’ll all be where we belong.

Then there’s the consumption for food problem.  Once people discover something they enjoy eating, they want to eat a lot of it.  There are lots more people than there are some of Bahamian animals. We’re used to predators, it’s the circle of life and all, but you have to give us time to reproduce.  Just like the hutia overgrazing the plants on Warderick Wells which will lead to their starvation, so are humans overgrazing many of the tastier animals. There’s a real danger that you’ll eat us all – then what? Oops, sorry, maybe we should have left a few?  It’s bad enough with the habitat destruction, i.e. our homes being destroyed for human homes.  Not to mention the introduction of predators like cats, dogs, pigs, etc.  We know how to escape the predators we evolved with, but it’s not fair to imperil us with predators we have no experience with.

On a happier not, I want you to meet a new human friend of mine, Jessica Minns.  She, too, is a native Bahamian.  Her family have been in the islands since the 1700’s.  She heard about my stories and wanted to join in the fun by drawing the illustrations for this next book.  Her pictures are almost as beautiful as the real animals.  I know you’ll enjoy them.  She, too, is from the Exumas.  We’re neighbors! You should come visit us in the Exumas.

I’m working on my fourth adventure – it involves a hurricane!  The story will blow you away.  Get it?  Hurricane…blow…

Until next time – happy basking!

Heard of a Hutia?

Who is Horace Hutia?

Hopefully, you’ve seen my exciting news that Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia is published and ready to be enjoyed.  But you’ve probably asked yourself who and what is Horace Hutia?  Hutia. Pronounced: “hoo”, like the sound a Great Horned Owl makes, “tea,” like the beverage, and ”ya” like when you’re being informal with the word yes.  Hoo-tea-ya.

Hutia are moderate sized rodents found only on Caribbean islands. Horace is a Bahamian hutia. He is an endemic, meaning he is unique to The Bahamas. His scientific name is Geocapromys ingrahami.  What makes Horace and his Bahamian family so special is that they are the only land mammal native to the Bahamas.  All the other land mammals were brought over by people.  The Bahamas have bats, the  Bahamian Lesser Funnel-eared Bat (Chilonatalus tumidifrons) but they aren’t considered “land” animals since they fly around and just hang out.

But like the bats, hutia are nocturnal, only coming out at night.  They are herbivores or vegetarians eating leaves and twigs.

Historically, hutia lived on many islands or cays but in modern times they were only found on East Plana Cay.  This is a limestone, semi-arid island with low-lying desert type shrubs. Hutia don’t need much water, they get it from the vegetation they eat. Only 5 miles long (eleven hundred acres), this is a very small island. Fortunately, hutia don’t mind living at a high density.  They’re similar to big city dwellers, like in New York City or Miami.  However, people were concerned that the hutia only lived on this one island.  What if some calamity should befall them?  There could be a hurricane, or introduced predators or a disease, which could kill off all the hutia.  So some of the hutia were moved to other cays, like Warderick Wells in the Exuma Sea and land park, where I live.

The hutia were almost eaten to extinction. Humans were a major predator through the centuries along with the extinct Alco, a Lucayan domesticated dog, and Chickcharnie owl (Tyto pollens).

One thing I’ve always been amazed at is the way hutia get along with each other.  Curly-tails, and other rodents, so I’m told, hate having other males in their territory.  I’ve had to chase out many a competing male to keep my perfect den in my perfect territory.  But hutia don’t mind.  The males sent mark their territories but it is more to let them know they’re here than to keep other hutia out.  Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the hutia about getting along with each other.

I did something a bit different with this book.  Instead of one ending, you get to choose how you want it to end.  I hope you like it.

Next up is my tale about being kidnapped by poachers.  You’ll get to meet a few more of my native Bahamian friends.

Reptiles Are Us!

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For those of you who don’t know any of us personally, I can assure you we reptiles are an interesting group.  We have incredible diversity.  Reptiles include lizards like me, Curtis Curly-tail, snakes, and the hard-shells (turtles, tortoises and terrapins).  Lizards can be small or big, like the Komodo Dragon.  Sadly, not all lizards can curl their tails like I do.  One who does is Callisaurus draconoides, the Zebra-tailed lizard, I’ve met when visiting Elaine in Tucson, Arizona.

Snakes.  What can I say about snakes?  They are truly amazing in the way they get around, even climbing, without any legs.  Sure, I know some snakes eat lizards like me, but that’s just the way Nature works.  I don’t hold their food choices against them personally.  We all do our part for the ecosystem.  Back home there is the Bahamian racer (Cubophis vudii) who finds lizards tasty.  That’s why I stay ever vigilant.

Did you know that tortoises are often confused with turtles? Which is which hard-shell?  Can you tell?

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Myrtle Tortoise

I was chatting with my friend Myrtle the other day.  She’s started a crusade to help humans with their confusion about hard-shells.  Myrtle, for example is a red-foot tortoise, Chelonoidis carbonaria, from South America.  She was named Myrtle, a perfectly lovely moniker.  Unfortunately, people rhyme Myrtle with turtle.  Do you know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?  Many people don’t.

The next time you meet a hard-shell and go to shake his/her hand, look at it.  Turtles have webs between their toes.  But just because they had webbed feet, that doesn’t mean they all live in water.  My friend Trevor Box Turtle is a good example of that.  He stays on land and is quite happy there.  There are many differences from their finger nails to their shell thicknesses to food preferences to the color of their eyes.  Personally, I don’t see how anyone could confuse them.

So Myrtle decided to write a book so you can tell hard-shells apart.  It’s called “Don’t Call Me Turtle.”  Children really enjoy the rhymes and colorful pictures but adults could learn from it, too.  Although…many adults said they couldn’t read a children’s book, so Myrtle may have to write a picture book for adults!  Nick Thorpe created some really terrific illustrations.  You’ll discover new details every time you look at them.

I encourage everyone to get a copy of “Don’t Call Me Turtle!”  You’ll be glad you did.  You can find it on Amazon.com or Kindle.

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Oh, what about the terrapins?  I’m glad you asked. A terrapin is a name for brackish-water turtles.  The name was originally used by early European settlers to describe the coastal turtles who neither lived in fresh water nor the sea. Terrapin is derived from the Algonquian word torope, the name for the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).

So, get to know some reptiles.  We’re really wonderful!