Until today, I didn’t know the collective noun for iguanas. I should have, since I’ve had more than one for around 30 years. I knew that a group of tortoises was a “creep,” and it’s a “bale” of turtles. The general term for lizards is “lounge.” I think some of my iguanas are willing to lounge around.
The collective noun for iguanas is a “mess.” Why, you and I might ask? Iguanas may intertwine in large groups, especially when they are gathered around a heat source. It’s hard to tell where one iguana ends, and another begins. They are ectotherms, or cold-blooded, so iguanas get their body heat from the environment or my body, as in this photo of Calliope and me. She is my writing muse, named after the Muse of Long Poetry.
One of my friends from the Southern US mentioned that “mess” refers to something else, as in a “mess of greens.” The greens she was referring to are collard, turnip and mustard greens, all of which are enjoyed by my reptilian family members, too. Of course, in my case, it may be accurate to say I do have a mess of greens: a mess of green iguanas.
How much or many is a mess? It is undefined, but in food, it is usually enough to feed a family.
I’d agree that my mess of greens is always exactly the right amount for my family.
Book Note: While I haven’t yet written a lot of books about iguanas, I have written one important one called Silent Rocks. It is about how to save the endangered Rock Iguanas of Cayman Brac, and teachers can use it to show how human activity endangers the lives of other species.
I’ve also written an adventure tale that includes an iguana, called The Dragon of Nani Cave. It features two lime lizards, Gene and Bony, who must do the bravest thing possible–find the dragon of Nani Cave, and survive!
October 21 is National Reptile Awareness Day. I would prefer the term ‘Appreciation’ instead of ‘Awareness.’ Many people are aware of reptiles but don’t appreciate them. They often state they hate reptiles—especially snakes!
This day is for celebrating all 10,000 species of reptiles, from the cute, colorful gecko to the unnerving rattlesnake, and to educate and raise awareness to the threats suffered by these fascinating beings. Reptiles are equally as important to the Earth’s ecosystems as are mammals, birds, amphibians and fish. Their presence helps to ensure a healthy environment, but they are almost always underappreciated.
Recently, a FL poster on Facebook displayed a photo of a decapitated corn snake, asking if it was a coral snake. A man who hated snakes had killed it out of fear–a harmless, native corn snake who would have eaten the rodents around their home, preventing damage to their electrical wires and infestations of disease. Despite several responders assuring the poster that it was a harmless, nonvenomous snake, popular as a pet, others insisted it had to be a venomous coral snake or cottonmouth. Why do we always assume the worse when it comes to snakes?
Sadly, the RV park in FL has a history of needlessly fearing animals. A mother alligator had shared the rearing of her hatchlings with the residents, only to be killed when she took a walk down a park road one day. Not threatening anyone, merely using the road as a thoroughfare. I believe they should have known better because they knew her.
I want to write books about these episodes, but how do I present these occurrences in an educational way that people would relate to and not be offended by? Inspiration will come to me. But obviously, educational books about reptiles are still very necessary. I get disheartened by people’s attitude that reptiles are “disposable” animals. I hope that through my books, I can bring people who “hate” reptiles to “disliking but respecting” them.
So, please appreciate all reptiles, even those you may not like. Maybe do some online research about the animal you dislike or are afraid of. Learn about their species and life-cycle and predators and offspring and what they bring to the circle of life. We don’t fear what we understand.
And remember that we’re all part of the great ecosystem of Earth.
This guy, Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus, and his species inspired my book, Don’t Make Me Fly!
September 4 is National Wildlife Day. As a biologist, I love wildlife, whether it is in my backyard or at some distant exotic location. Wildlife Day was established to remind us about endangered animals, locally and around the world.
This is also the day to recognize the work being done on behalf of these animals, both in preservation and education about them. I do my part for conservation through my volunteering as a citizen scientist, talks I give, the books I write about animals, and supplemental, educational workbooks that teach about animals in a fun way.
As a science book writer, I am asked to speak at schools and libraries about my favorite subject: reptiles. I often use props to help people visualize the facts I present. For instance, an iguana egg is about the size of a marshmallow. So, I bring a bag of marshmallows to use and, when allowed, for the kids to eat. The last time I spoke, one bag didn’t get used and the soft puffs got hard. These hard marshmallows brought back a memory from my childhood involving alligators on Sanibel Island, FL.
When I was a child, people in the park gathered at a bridge to feed marshmallows to the local gators. It was not well understood then how we were affecting the local alligators’ behavior. We know now how bad it is to feed wild animals. Not only is the food not good for them, they lose their fear of people and become “problem” animals. Simply relocating them doesn’t usually work, because they are plopped down in the middle of another’s territory and a moved individual can be killed by its own kind already there.
But back to my story about feeding marshmallows to alligators. The only marshmallows Mom could find in the trailer was a forgotten bag way back on a shelf. The usually fluffy confections were rock hard. But we were going to throw them in the water and gators have a bite strength of 2125 pounds per square inch, so a hard marshmallow should be no problem, right? I soon joined the other feeders tossing the treats into the water. Their marshmallows bobbed until a gator stealthily approached, snatched it rapidly, submerged, and re-emerged a short distance away, waiting for the next one. Several gators took turns gobbling down the sugary snacks.
Until they got to my marshmallows. A gator approached,
quickly bit down on one and submerged.
Suddenly, the water erupted with thrashing. The marshmallow was released
. . . unscathed. The gator swam away. This happened again and again until all
the gators failed at damaging my marshmallows and swam away in disgust. The
other people looked at me angrily. I had driven all the alligators away, leaving
only my hardened marshmallows bobbing in the gently moving water.
I like to think that in my unintentional way, my disgusting marshmallows helped prevent a few alligators from becoming “problem” animals.
I guess I was a conservationist even back then.
I hope you will check out my books on the subject of Conservation. I love to make science books fun–it is a part of who I am–but conservation is a subject deserving of both our respect and action. Saving endangered species and looking out for all life on the only planet we and they have is up to all of us.
The Cayman Islands are a system of three islands located south of Cuba: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. I’ve been privileged to work as a citizen scientist for the conservation of the two types of iguanas found there. The most famous is the Blue Iguana found on Grand Cayman, Cyclura lewisi. Their body color really is sky blue. They were almost lost to extinction, but some hardworking humans created the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and their numbers are climbing. This doesn’t mean they are out of danger, but it is a step in the right direction as they say. You should visit the Blues at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park if you’re ever on Grand Cayman.
I am more interested in the lesser 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. They are endemic to only the Sister Islands.
Little Cayman has
a fairly large population of iguanas, but Cayman Brac’s iguanas are having a
tough time surviving. Along with the usual human-caused problems, 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.
My friend Bonnie Scott Edwards, who lives on the Brac, asked me to help her spread the word about the iguanas being needlessly killed. I’m always willing to help with causes like this. She had some terrific photos of iguanas both living and dead – I prefer the live ones myself. Then my friend, Anderson, who does great drawings for my books, filled in the blanks with his illustrations for my book, Silent Rocks. The book turned out great and I hope it helps not only to educate people but also tugs at their consciences. Every time an iguana is senselessly killed, a part of the future dies.
Some people wonder about the value of the iguanas. Did you know that many plants require the help of the iguanas to germinate and grow? 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. They go up the bluff, then down the bluff, then up the bluff, then down–well, you get the idea.
However, not just
any iguana will do. Many areas have introduced the Green Iguana, Iguana
iguana, into rock iguana territories. Some research suggests that seeds
passing through the Green’s gut does not help the plants in rock iguana
territories. Only the correct iguana will do. This makes sense, since
many of the plants evolved along with the iguanas. More studies are being done.
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 even stop texting. Bonnie also tells 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. It is 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, are the poisons. Some rat poisons are the
same color as the iguanas’ favorite flowers. Of course, the rats and mice were
introduced by people, too. So many dangers have come along with people.
The population of the endemic Sister Island Rock Iguana (Cyclura nubila caymanensis) on Cayman Brac is in serious decline. These vegetarian lizards are an important part of the island’s ecosystem. The reduction in population is the result of human activity on their habitat and the threats can only be eliminated by human action.
But people can
also solve these problems and I’m hoping the people on Brac working to help the
iguanas do succeed. Like the blue iguanas on Grand Cayman, the Brac rock iguanas can be brought back from the brink of
I wrote a book
about this important issue. It’s called Silent Rocks. Bonnie’s photos of the iguanas
of Cayman Brac are wonderful.
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