Friday, August 13, 2010

On the rocks

There's a place in Howarth Park that Chloe and I both like to go and hang out. It's rocky and was partially quarried at some point in history and is easily reached from one trail. If you walk out across the rocks you can look far down on another trail. Or you can just sit in the middle and bask in the sun. If you stay a while you might see some deer toward the lower trail. If you stay quiet long enough lizards come out and bask, too, and birds fly about the blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) that grow in between the rocks.

The sun was just beginning to warm things and Chloe and I were bouncing from rock to rock when I saw a flash of blue sticking out from under the rock I was about to leap onto. Chloe leapt onto the rock before I could stop her and the blue disappeared. I called her back and we sat down to wait out what I knew would be a Skilton's skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus). After a while a striped head poked out and then, with movement more like a snake than another lizard, the blue tailed skink traveled around the rock, clearly checking us out, it's shiny scales glistening as the sun finally broke free of the fog.

I wondered, the first time I saw one of these beauties, why it would have a screaming blue tail. Although no one knows for sure, it's believed that the tail attracts a predator who grabs it and loses it's meal as the tail breaks free, letting the skink escape. A new tail will eventually grow back, and be just as detachable as the first one was. A skink with a bright tail is a young skink and, during breeding season in the spring, the head, chin and, sometimes, the sides, turn bright orange.

After a while the skink wandered off to take care of more important things and I noticed a very young looking Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) perched inconspicuously on another rock. At first it seemed to be dashing down the rock to eat grass seeds but that made no sense, since lizards are carnivorous, so I looked more closely and discovered that some ants or termites were flying out of the ground just below the rock. With what looked like very little effort that little lizard caught five insects in about two minutes! Looking around carefully with my binoculars, I spotted another young lizard blending beautifully into the rock it sat upon.

California herps: Skilton's skink
California herps: California skinks
Wild herps
The Source Weekly
Western Connecticut State University


  1. And Chloe sat still for this after the initial leap? It's almost as if she realizes what good work you do if your exquisite little models are allowed to show off.

  2. This is an exceptional post, Debbie. I feel as though I got to watch the lizards with you.

  3. What a gorgeous tail, and wonderful sketches - I'm so glad the tail grows back numerous times, our lizards seem to replace them once only (our bad cat constantly endangering that appendage) A pleasure to sit on the rocks and watch lizards with you!

  4. Such wonderful, slippery movement in these sketches, Debbie. I love to watch lizards in the garden. Roll on the day when I get my new binoculars! I agree with Cathy - a pleasure to sit on a rock and watch with you.

  5. We had a tiny skink in our house today. I didn't see a blue tail, though. It looked like a ground skink but they seem to live in the southeast. Your sketches are wonderful and's time for me to get back to it.