Some Slither and Some Run
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Here Are A Few of Boomer’s Favorite Creatures from the Reptile Kingdom. 

These flying lizards have membranes that act as wings. They stretch over long ribs that can expand or fold back against the body. See that bright dewlap under its chin? It’s used to signal to other lizards.Yes, Gliding Lizards Are Real!

The Draco lizard, or flying dragon, is a small lizard that crawls and glides through the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Dracos grow to about 8 inches long—their tails make up about half their body length. They are a dull brown, but have brightly colored skin under their “wings.” The lizard also has a fold of skin under its chin, called a dewlap, which is brightly colored in the males.

Dracos have long ribs that can splay out or fold close to their bodies. Folds of skin, or membranes, between the ribs spread out from their front and back legs and act as wings. This allows Dracos to glide 30 feet or more. Their tails are used to help them steer their flight. Gliding through the trees lets these reptile aviators escape from predators and pursue their preferred prey, insects. Their main diet is ants and termites.

Dracos spend most of their time in the trees but do head down to the ground to lay eggs. A female will dig a hole, lay about five eggs, then cover it up and watch over it for about 24 hours.

The Gila Monster Is Monstrously Marvelous!

The largest native, venomous lizard in the United States lives in our own backyard—the Sonoran Desert. Meet the desert Southwest’s mightiest monster—the Gila monster! 

Named for the Arizona Gila River basin where it was first discovered, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, can weigh up to 5 pounds at 2 feet in length. It lives up to 30 years. Their stout, black bodies are covered in bumps called osteoderms. These contrast with patterns of bright peach, orange or yellow patches. 

The Gila monster is slow-moving. It crawls along at 1 mph, making it one of the slowest animals in the world! Gila monsters have poor eyesight, but use their sense of smell and taste to navigate their surroundings.

With its strong jaws, a Gila monster uses its venom primarily on predators rather than prey. Their venom is located in glands along the lower jaw, which flows through their grooved teeth, into its victim.

In addition to the Sonoran desert, these reptiles are found in the foothills of the Mojave and Chihuahua deserts in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. They spend 95 percent of their time underground, especially when it’s cold or hot! They emerge only if they need to hunt or sunbathe.

Their diet consists of bird eggs and nesting animals like baby cottontail rabbits and ground squirrels. The food they consume can be stored in their tails for later when they need energy reserves. Four to five meals can sustain them for an entire year!

A Three-Horned Chameleon!

The Jackson’s chameleon, or three-horned chameleon, grows to be about 12 inches long. Its lifespan is about 10 years. Only the males have horns, which they use to defend their territory. They may lock horns with another lizard to become “king of the branch.” But these chameleons are solitary creatures—instead of fighting they may puff up or posture to ward off other males.

This chameleon lives in trees in tropical forests and mountains in eastern Africa. It can also be found in Hawaii, where it is an invasive species. It uses its prehensile tail to keep a grip on branches while it moves. They get the water they need from licking dewdrops.

Their unique eyes are not set in sockets—a thick muscular eyelid keeps their peepers in place. Their eyes are set on either side of the head and can move independently. This gives them a 360° view of the world around them.

Like other chameleons, the Jackson’s chameleon can change colors based on ambient temperature, its mood, or to blend it with its surroundings. Because it is very slow, the chameleon relies on this camouflage to protect itself from predators. While its main diet is comprised of insects, the Jackson’s chameleon will also eat smaller lizards and even small birds! 

Unlike most lizards and other reptiles, the Jackson’s chameleon does not lay eggs. The female has about eight to 30 babies at a time. When they are born, the little chameleons begin to hunt their own food—insects—right away. They are brown when they are born and turn their distinctive bright green after about four months.

Reptiles on the Move!

The Dashing, But Deadly Sea Snakes

There are over 60 species of sea snakes. The yellow-bellied sea snake is the most wide-ranging—it is found in the Indian and Pacific oceans from eastern Africa to the western coasts of North and South America. Sea snakes are very venomous, but fortunately, they are not aggressive and they have small fangs.

The yellow-bellied sea snake lives in the open ocean, further from the coast than some of its kin. Like other sea snakes, they are helpless if washed ashore. These snakes have oar-like tails and flat bodies adapted to swimming—they cannot crawl on land. Another adaptation to marine life is their respiratory system. The snakes’ lungs run the length of their bodies and they can breathe through their skin. This allows them to stay underwater for hours at a time.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes give birth to two to six live young. They can grow up to 4 feet long. The snake is a bright yellow with a dark brown or black stripe on top and spots at its tail. It has a long head with nostrils on top of its snout used to breathe when it surfaces. But it spends about 90 percent of its life underwater.

Sonoran Reptiles!

If you’re fascinated by reptiles—from slithering snakes to our adorable desert tortoises—then you’re living in right place.

“We have an incredible variety of reptiles here!” explains Howard Byrne, curator of Herpetology (reptiles), Ichthyology (fish) and Invertebrate Zoology (insects, spiders, scorpions and the like) at the world- famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

“For those who really get excited about them, we have just a plethora of different kinds of things that you can see on a single walk at night,” he says. “For instance, we have a nature trail here at the Desert Museum—and it’s not unusual to see three or four different kinds of lizards just on a 10-minute walk! And since April, we’ve already seen four or five kinds of snakes on the property and several of them!” 

Visitors to ASDM can view and learn about dozens of amazing reptile species that live in the Sonoran Desert. From desert iguanas to chuckwallas to Mexican beaded lizards and Gila monsters (the only two kinds of lizards known to be able to deliver venom when they bite)—the lizards here are impressive! And so are the 70 species of native snakes that the Desert Museum cares for.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum LogoRattlesnakes are some of Byrne’s favorite reptiles. He calls the Arizona black rattlesnake a real beauty. But the western diamondback rattler is the one you’re most likely to come across. “Rattlesnakes are the most fascinating, most misunderstood reptiles. There’s so much room for discovery,” he points out. “Their behavior is just really, really cool. They don’t care if it’s day or night—just want the right temperature—and they’ll be out and about.” 

Reptiles are more active this time of year. “There are more out there to enjoy, always from a distance,” Byrne says. That means to give a snake a good 6 feet in Arizona, but he says they’re most likely to stay put where you find them!

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