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Denizens Of The Desert:
 Black-tailed Hare

 Callisaurus, The Gridiron-tailed Lizard

 Sauromalus, The Chuckwalla


 Testudo, The Desert Tortoise


 Desert Horned Lizard

 Spilogale, The Spotted Skunk

 Read More Articles About: Denizens Of The Desert

Callisaurus, The Gridiron-tailed Lizard

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

(Callisaurus ventralis)

"SPEEDING like greased lightning" is hardly a figurative expression when applied to that active and agile saurian, the gridiron-tailed lizard. Starting off at full speed, with his black banded tail held in air "as if afraid to let it touch the hot earth," he scoots across the sand as if "shot from a cannon." None of our desert lizards can move so fast nor can any run so far without fatigue. To arouse one of these "sandlappers" from his seeming lethargy while at rest, and get him going at full speed in front of you, is an act always hugely productive of pleasure. Generally they move in great circles, but when on long, open stretches, where there is scarcely trace of vegetation behind which to hide, they run a straight course. Then it is that you see them racing at their best. Some observers have ventured to assert that these swift runners when excited will, in their anxiety for speed, rear their bodies upright and proceed on their hind limbs like bipeds. When I was telling this to Loco Tom at Stovepipe Springs, he matched it with this yet greater absurd statement: "Why, up here these lizards run so fast on hot days that they have to stop every once in a while, turn over on their backs, and put their feet up in the air to cool them off in the wind."

It has always been a puzzle to me to explain how these swift-moving creatures can so easily find a hole for refuge while in movement. When going at top speed they can "spot" a burrow and suddenly duck into it as if they had known it was there all the while. Such is their momentum that you cannot see how by any possible means they can keep from shooting straight over the abrupt hollow.

When at rest their heads and shoulders are held up high in such a position as to favor careful observation and alertness. The pelvis and the tail rest flat upon the ground. The knees of the rear legs stand out at right angles from the body and are "elevated to such a degree that they nearly reach the plane of the back." This position makes it possible for them to spring into action at a moment's notice. When ready to run, the whole body is well elevated, the tail flung up over the back, and away they go - mere streaks of white on the silver sand.

While on the Ralston Desert of Nevada I saw a male and a female making most peculiar and striking flirtations to one another, the two waltzing back and forth before each other in amorous antics much as mocking-birds are wont to do during the mating season. Until I came almost upon them they seemed so enwrapped in their wooings and waltzings that they did not notice my approach in the least. The movements were exceedingly graceful and full of weird rhythm.

These lizards are carnivores of a big appetite, and all sorts of tiny creatures, from insects to reptiles, fall victims to their voracity. It is common enough practice for them to turn cannibals and eat their own offspring - rather despicable business, this eating of one's own children, but possibly considered good form in reptiledom. We are glad to learn that at least a part of their food is of a vegetable nature-sometimes half their sustenance comes from buds and foliage.

The gridiron-tailed lizard has received its common name because of the broad black bands found on the underside of the tail, which are so conspicuous when this appendage is reared in flight. This interesting lizard is found quite uniformly distributed over the sandy plains and gravelly washes of both the Colorado and the Mohave Deserts of California; also in western Nevada and southern Utah, where it is one of the most abundant lizards of the region. During winter it is dormant.

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