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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.

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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!

Little Cayman – Visit with my cousins and the iguanas

After the great visit on Cayman Brac, I went to Little Cayman.  Little Cayman is the other Sister Island in the Cayman Islands.  Most people go to Little Cayman to scuba dive, you know how they take a tank of air and go swimming under water.  Scuba diving is something that I as a curly-tail lizard am never going to do.  People enjoy watching all the animals in the ocean.  Elaine and I went for entirely different reasons.  First, she had to finish up some work on my second book, “Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia.”  This time I tell the story with different endings so you can choose which one you like the best.  You see, the hutia are damaging the protected ecosystem on my home cay, Warderick Wells.  The humans aren’t sure what to do about that.  So the reader gets to decide how they would handle the problem.  I suggest 3 possible choices, but maybe one of you out there might come up with an even better solution.

It had been very rainy on Little Cayman.  Elaine was hoping to have a day or two of rain, so she could spend a lot of time writing and inserting illustrations where they needed to go in the text.  Of course, I brought the lovely weather and she only got to write as the sun rose over the ocean.

I’ve started working on my third book “Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped.”  It will be full of suspense, maybe a bit scary.  I get captured by poachers and taken off Warderick Wells.  I haven’t written the ending yet, so I don’t know if I make it back or not!

While the sun was out, Elaine joined her friends (Jill, Jen and Tay) in surveying the iguanas on Little Cayman like she had on Cayman Brac.  While she was out with the iguanas, I visited with my cousins.  We discussed story-lines, so yes, someday there will be a curly-tail tale set on Little Cayman.

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Iguana Surveying on Cayman Brac

A little later, I was off to Cayman Brac.  Cayman Brac is one of the sister Islands in the Cayman Islands.  It is just a few miles south of Cuba.  We were helping a doctoral student learn how to capture and ‘process’ the iguanas.  Process means all their body measurements are taken: weight, length, sex, scars, etc.  Everything you would want to know about the animal.  Oh, I need to tell you which iguana it is.  Silly me.  The species of iguana on CB, that’s short for Cayman Brac, is Cyclura nubila caymanensis. Since most humans don’t use scientific names, they are colloquially known as Sister Island Rock Iguanas. I love that word colloquially.  They are native to CB and Little Cayman (Little Cayman is the other sister island).  Not much is known about the CB iguanas, so we are helping out with the research now being done.  There is so much to learn and we need to learn it before the SIRIs are all gone.  The ig population is in decline due to habitat encroachment by human development and predation by feral dogs and cats. Extinction is a real possibility.  So a few dedicated humans are working to ensure their survival.

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a young SIRI

Going to CB also lets me visit with my cousins, the CB curly-tails.  Yes, my ancestors wandered far and wide.  I can see why some of them settled in the Caymans.  They are lovely islands.  Not as nice as the Bahamas, but I am biased.

My cousin, a Cayman Brac Curly-tail Lizard

Cayman Brac Curly-tail

Like us curly-tails, the igs like to bask.  Only they do it on the roads where they get hit by cars.  The DOE and DOT have put up signs warning drivers that there may be iguanas on the road.  Sadly, too many igs are still being hit and killed.  Maybe with time, the drivers will become more cautious.  The CB iguanas are great animals and deserve respect.  I encourage everyone to get to know an iguana, even if it’s not a SIRI.

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Tucson Festival of Books 2015

Greetings everyone.

Sorry for my absence of late.  Humans say ‘time flies quickly,’ but it’s even quicker in curly-tail lizard time.  I had many more interesting things to tell you about but then I got traveling.  My friend Elaine needed someone to go with her on her trips and I couldn’t say no.  So, in my next several posts, I’m going to tell you about the places I’ve been and the interesting curly-tails and people I’ve met.

In March, we went down to the University of Arizona campus for the Tucson Festival of Books.  It was unbelievable.  The festival was huge.  It took me the entire two days to see everything. Hundreds of thousands of people came to share books, entertainment, and food. Famous authors gave talks on writing and the book business.  Readers came to buy books from their favorite and soon-to-be new favorite authors.  Performers sang and danced.  All sorts of food, too.  I confess while Elaine was busy, I went around sampled the crumbs.  They were delicious. Elaine had a booth with some friends where she sold her books. The story of my adventure, “Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers,” sold the best.  I was pleased to see that people wanted it in more than just English.  Many grandparents wanted a book in Spanish to read to their grandchildren.  I was happy to sell them my friend Dorothy’s translation.

The booth across from Elaine’s featured languages from around the world.  Check out the gallery to see Elaine in front of posters from France, Mexico and the USA holding my story.  I can pretend my story has gone around the world!

One of the main purposes of the festival is to encourage literacy.  I’m all in favor of literacy.  After all, I want everyone to read my books.  Yes, books.  My second story, “Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia,” is just about to be released.  I can’t wait.  It features my good friend Horace Hutia and his family.  Not only is it a great story but the reader gets to choose the ending they prefer.  I think you’ll like it.

Well, it’s time for me to run down to the beach and see if any tourists are coming.  Until next time, may the sun shine down upon you warmly, may the gulls be slow, and may your curly-tail be perfectly curled.

 

Curtis

Curtis’ First Blog

Greetings Everyone! I’m Curtis Curly-tail and this is my blog. I confess, when Elaine asked me to write a blog, I had no idea what was involved. But my friend Dudley Dewlap, (he’s a green iguana talk show host), gave me some pointers, so I am ready to curl my tail and get down to blogging. I thought it would be hard to write with my perfectly sized lizard fingers but it’s going quite well. I’m getting pretty good at hitting the space bar with my tail.

Dudley suggested I start off by introducing myself. I am a Bahamian curly-tail lizard, scientific name Leiocephalus carinatus. We curl our tails up over our backs. Humans have often wondered why we do this. We use it to attract the girls, obviously, and to distract predators. Some people think that the waving tail will make the predators attack the wrong end of the lizard, ending up with only a mouthful of tail. But don’t worry, our tails grow back. Personally, I think waving my tail lets the predator know I see him and he doesn’t have any hope in catching me.

I live on Warderick Wells Cay, (cay means island), in the Bahamas. My cay is located in the group of islands called the Exumas. I think they are the best islands of all of the Bahamas islands. Along with other small lizards, we curly-tails share some of the islands with rather large lizards called iguanas. Unlike my friend Dudley who lives in a tree, the Exuma iguanas are rock iguanas, Cyclura cychlura figginsi, who live, you guessed it, in rocks. Scientists often come to the Exumas to study them. That’s how I met Elaine -she came to study the natural history of the Exumas with her citizen scientist friends. We spent a lovely afternoon getting to know each other.

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I like to ride on the visitors’ shoes. I don’t get stepped on that way.

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Along with lizards, many birds live with me on Warderick Wells. This is a friendly bananaquit. They enjoy meeting the visitors as well.
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Here’s a couple of photos of my big lizard friends, the Exuma iguanas.

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Well, I’ll wave my tail good-bye for now. Thanks for reading!

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Elaine

October 16, 2014

Welcome to my blog! These are the thoughts of a curly-tail lizard who saw the world and decided he liked his own home better.