Blue-belly lizards always interested me as a boy. Sort of like a cat attracted to movement, they naturally captured my attention when they scurried around on boulders in creeks or my backyard fence.
Then my dad taught me how to fashion a lasso from the pliable flower stalk of green wild oats. I could use the grassy length of plant to get close enough to catch the otherwise uncatchable speedy reptiles by slipping the noose over their head, which pulled tight when they darted away.
Another fascinating lesson came when I learned to put a blue-belly to “sleep” by slowly turning it on its back and gently stroking its belly. It’s small experiences like that, I suppose, which helped instill in me an interest in the natural world as I grew up, and made me to understand that moments of wonder and amusement could be found in the smallest of things.
A blue-belly hiding out in a tiny cave along the hike to Arrowhead Spring in the Los Padres National Forest.
In a previous post, Ticks, Lizards and Lyme Disease, I mentioned a fascinating biological connection between blue-belly lizards and a decrease of the debilitating Lyme disease found in California. Another notable characteristic of blue-belly lizards is their ability to change color.
Contrary to misinformation found on the Internet, however, these lizards do not change color for defense purposes as a means of subterfuge, but do so to help thermoregulate. Blue-bellies have a third eye of sorts called a parietal eye, which is seen as a dot on the large scale found behind their two eyes. It communicates with their brain based on a measurement of ambient sunlight to determine, depending on their need to warm or cool themselves, how dark or light their skin tone should be, which increases or decreases, respectively, the amount of heat they absorb from the sun.
Sometimes the small and seemingly ordinary things have interesting stories to tell for those willing to take the time to listen.
Joan Easton Lentz, A Naturalist’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Region (2013)