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It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s…a lizard.

Their name makes them sound completely boring: western fence lizard. But that’s just what they want you to think. Underneath that Clark-Kent-facade is a secret identity as a crime-fighter with incredible superpowers. Don’t believe me? Here are seven reasons why you should:

1. Crime fighting – Lyme disease

Kapow! In the late 1990s, researchers at University of California, Berkeley discovered that when ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards, a substance found in the lizard’s blood kills the Lyme disease bacteria. The blood of these lizards, it turns out, contains Lyme’s disease Kryptonite.

Though Lyme disease does exist in California, there are fewer cases here compared to the East Coast thanks, in part, to this vigilante lizard.

2. Skydiving

Like any great superhero, western fence lizards aren’t afraid of launching themselves into mid-air from heights. Sometimes they’re chasing insects or avoiding evil predators; other times it seem like they’re just free falling because, well, it just feels good to be a superhero.

3. Third eye

Wouldn’t it be nice to have eyes in the back of your head? Well this lizard’s got…one. If you look closely, you’ll see a translucent scale on the back of this lizard’s head. That’s actually an eye and it helps measure temperature and tell time. Clever.

4. Quick release tail

All great superheroes have a backup plan when things start to get dangerous. A quick release tail wriggling on the ground or in an enemy’s mouth is the perfect distraction for a clean getaway.

First the lizard contracts muscles at weak spots in its tail. Then the vertebra at these weak points rupture while the nerves, blood vessels and muscles break at the same time. And then, poof!

5. Best dance moves in the natural kingdom

Being a great dancer isn’t a superhero requirement, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. You’ll often see these lizards doing pushups, bobbing their heads and raising their tails. Yes, it’s all for show. This lizard boogie is a display of dominance to claim territory and court a passing mate.

6. Temperature control

Western fence lizards can change their skin color in response to temperature – from darker in the morning to lighter as they warm-up throughout the day. Brilliant!

7. Cryogenically freezing (with one eye open)

From late October to March, it’s a bit too chilly for this sun-loving superhero, so these lizards put themselves in a hibernation-like state known as “brumation”. This makes them easy prey for snakes, birds and other animals. Never fear, the western fence lizard can sleep with one eye open. Scientists believe that the side of the brain connected to the closed eye is able to sleep, while the side that is connected to the open eye stays awake and watchful.

 

Western fence lizards can be found in most POST-protected open spaces – grasslands, chaparral, sagebrush, oak woodlands and redwood forests. Next time you see one, tip your hat and say thanks. Even superheroes need friends.

 

                                  

Photo: Western Fence Lizard, Thomas Shahan – CC

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 78,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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