Sunday, June 8, 2014

Long Island Lizards

     I remember distinctly the day I got my Peterson's Reptile Field Guide. I was in middle school and my dad had just taken me to a Long Island Rail Road station in Westbury, the town just North of ours. He took me there because he had learned lizards lived there! Nerdy-awkward-middle school me easily agreed to go take a visit. All along the South facing sides of the station that slope up, from the parking lot to the tracks were covered in small brownish green lizards. It was the coolest thing ever, especially having never ever seen anything remotely reptilian anywhere near my home. My dad said we needed to find out what it was, so we took a trip to local Banes & Nobel and found it in a field guide, which was then purchased for me as a gift, that I still have to this very day.
     The Italian Wall Lizard we learned was introduced and lives exclusively in Western Long Island, NY and some random other places. They were introduced here in the late 60's and have done quite well for themselves. These lizards seem to use the Long Island Rail Road tracks as a mode of dispersal - an interesting article about them provides some more insight on these lizards, by Russell Burke of Hofstra University.
These lizards are naturally found in Italy as well as France, Switzerland, Coatia, Slovenia... but have been introduced on Long Island.
They are normally found in rocky, scrubby habitats-- the dried dead grasses and gravel of the sloping sides of the railroad station simulate that habitat, with a lot more added Mc Donald's cups and other wrappers and trash....
I appreciate finding things in unlikely places, and this is as unlikely as it gets. Across the tracks, ladies in hats were waiting for a train to take them to the Belmont Stakes-- I was the crazy lady looking over the railing and stalking lizards... 
These lizards can vary in appearance, bu overall, they are brown with those dark blotchy lines down their back with green above.
They are part of the lacerta lizard family- lizards normally found in Aurope, Asia, and Africa - and like their counterparts, sport a mini forked tongue.

The large circle behind their eye is where their ear is located- unlike us, they don't have pinnae (the flap of skin that makes up what we call our ear).
A wall lizard doing just as it should- hanging out on a wall. They fit quite well into all the cracks and crevices. 
A good example of how well they can squish into the wall for safety. To compare, those are pebbles, these lizards are not large at all. Their predators here on Long Island include house cats and birds.
I wonder how many people commute from here each and every day... and I wonder how many of those even take a moment to notice that lizards are running all over the place. I know if it were me, I'd probably miss my train often...