Posts tagged ‘lizard’

Lizards in Minnesota? The well-named Six-lined Racerunner

July 20, 2020

Lizards in Minnesota? We have three species that are found in the state: Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) across all of MN except northeast and north central, Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) found in extreme southeast MN and along the MN River Valley, and my target for the day—Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata), which is almost exclusively found in the southeast counties bordering the Mississippi River.

Six-lined Racerunner? Yes, this lizard is incredibly speedy (it can run up to 18MPH!) and it has six greenish-yellow stripes…three running down each side of its body (with a darker middle stripe…so it could technically be called the “Seven-lined Racerunner” but nobody asked me).

And this lizard needs that kind of speed to ambush grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies and other insects who can be quite quick to take wing at the first hint of danger.

Range of Six-lined Racerunner in the U.S (from NatureServe.org)

Thanks to a tip from a herpetologist friend I searched this spot along the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota (the southeastern most county in MN). He said to only go on a sunny and very warm day since these guys are only active in the heat of midday. In fact, their ideal air temperature for activity is 93 degrees F! (Fitch, 1958). They won’t even come out of burrows on cool days (below 72?). Mid May is when they emerge and they go back underground for the winter in late August.

Check out the unique scales on the Six-lined Racerunner’s tail. They can “drop” their tail if in danger, or if a predator grabs them by the tail, but it is much more unusual than with the skinks.

My first “sighting” was just a line of grass moving as an unseen lizard raced away from me. The site was sandy with a surprising amount of forb cover. I would have thought I’d find them in more open sandy country. A line of jumbled rocks is where they would scurry to for cover.

After about two hours, and about six lizards speeding away from me to the shelter of the rocks, I finally found a Racerunner that wasn’t racing. I was able to sloooowly creep towards him (see below on how I knew his gender) and get a few shots through the grasses.

The blue throat/chin and lime green face tells me that this is a male who is still in breeding “plumage.”

Much of this information about the natural history of Minnesota’s herps was gleaned from Moriarty and Hall’s excellent Amphibians & Reptiles of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). You can buy it here. Or purchase from Amazon here.

In this Blog Post from summer 2019, I searched for the Five-lined Skink along the rocky landscape of the Minnesota River Valley, but instead found a juvenile Prairie Skink.

Lizards, Tortoises & Snakes—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 7

Here are the seven species of herps I saw in southeast Arizona. Most were lifers for me. I get about as excited about new species of reptiles and amphibians as I do about new birds!

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Note the blue-tinted body and black bars on forelegs that help identify this Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) and separate it from the Desert Spiny Lizard below.
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

This male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) was very cooperative. He was displaying (and even doing a little “dance”). Maybe it was all for the benefit of the less-colorful female (pictured below).
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female (?) Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]
Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

I was thrilled to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum) on Foothills Road after dark near Portal, Arizona. I joined him on the road and got some decent photos considering it was quite dark out. I had to move slow or he would bolt. This was my third species of horned lizard for my life list.
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

What great camouflage!

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

This old guy was sauntering along a dirt road near Patagonia, Arizona…and I couldn’t resist making friends with him. What a magnificent creature!

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Selfie with Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Eye-level view of Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai). Sometimes you just have to lay in the dirt to get the shot!
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

See ya buddy! Live long and prosper.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

I saw this very long and thin snake curled up on a dirt road in the mountains near Sierra Vista, Arizona on my way to Hunter Canyon. But by the time I got the car stopped, it was already up a nearby tree. I was really hoping to get a very up close look at this guy, especially since it was a lifer.

I determined that it is a Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.