Above Susan Mule of the Cayman Islands reads Silent Rocks.
Of particular importance to me are the two endemic iguana species on the islands of Cayman Brac, the blue iguana found on Grand Cayman and the Sister Isle Rock Iguana found on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. I’ve done field work with the latter and enjoy going back every year to how my reptilian friends are doing. In fact, I wrote the book Silent Rocks: Iguanas of Cayman Brac to help inform people about how the iguanas are being needlessly killed.
The endemic Sister Isle Rock Iguana of Cayman Brac is critically endangered. This poignant book shows why* and how we humans can help. Includes many photographs of these magnificent large lizards.
*Silent Rocks can be used to teach how humans endanger many species
This guy, Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus, and his species inspired my book, Don’t Make Me Fly!
September 4 is National Wildlife Day. As a biologist, I love wildlife, whether it is in my backyard or at some distant exotic location. Wildlife Day was established to remind us about endangered animals, locally and around the world.
This is also the day to recognize the work being done on behalf of these animals, both in preservation and education about them. I do my part for conservation through my volunteering as a citizen scientist, talks I give, the books I write about animals, and supplemental, educational workbooks that teach about animals in a fun way.
Fire can be a wonderful or terrify thing. In many ecosystems, fires are important for keeping them healthy. These are low intensity fires that clear the ground of brush and scrub. However, invasive plant species like buffelgrass cause fires to burn hotter destroying the ecosystem, instead of nurturing it.
May and June in the Sonoran Desert are high fire periods. This is the dry season between the winter rains and summer monsoons. Plants dry, grass turns brown. It is very easy to accidentally start a fire, so open fires are restricted. Sudden, heat-generated storms are produced, containing a lot of lightning, and nature uses the lightning to ignite fires during this time.
One such storm ignited the dry vegetation on Pusch Ridge, near my home, on June 5. Pusch Ridge is in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, AZ. The three peaks are between 5,000 to 6,000 feet high. At the lower elevations are the iconic saguaro cactus, while juniper and pines are found higher.
Natural low-intensity fires clear out the ground debris allowing for new growth that support animals, such as bighorn sheep. Unfortunately, the introduction of invasive plants, like buffel grass, have changed the nature of the fires. The dried invasive plants fuel much larger, higher intensity fires, resulting in the destruction of the ecosystem instead of enhancing it.
Sadly, the Bighorn Fire on Pusch Ridge is one of the destructive fires. This destruction is the results of man’s altering of the environment. Buffel grass was introduced for erosion control and cattle forage. The buffel grass thrived and forced out the natural plants. Buffel grass-fueled fires also destroy buildings.
The fire is still raging today. According to The Arizona Daily Star, “Firefighters spent most of Sunday strengthening fire lines in the Summerhaven area and burning down the ridge line north of the town as they continued to fight the 58,500-acre Bighorn Fire,” officials said. 950 people are fighting the fire that is about 16% contained.
It is hoped that some of the areas will be able to rejuvenate with native species, but the loss may be irreparable or last for many years. Unfortunately, humankind has never been able to quickly stop its destructive behaviors.
Today, I wanted to ask you if you knew that Green Iguanas, Iguana iguana, come in different colors? And, if they come in different colors, how do you tell if a lizard is a green iguana?
You look for the subtympanic scale. “What is that?” you ask. Well, I don’t have one, so I had to look it up myself. The subtympanic scale is that large scale on the side of the green iguana’s head. Sub means below and tympanic means ear. So, it’s the big scale below the ear. I have a friend who calls that scale the “jewel.” She always admires the beautiful coloring in the iguana jewels.
Here are some of my green iguana friends, in very different colors. As you can see, they are not just green–but they are all still called “green.” Even the green green iguanas come in different shades of green. It can be confusing, if you ask me.
The native range of the green iguana is southern Mexico to central Brazil and several Caribbean islands. If you don’t live in those areas, why should you know how to identify a green iguana? Because they’re very popular as pets in people’s homes and they have been introduced to many other places in the world, where they don’t belong and can be causing harm. That means they’re “invasive.”
If you enjoy learning while coloring and doing activities, I encourage you to be creative. To learn more in fun ways about iguanas, please see our 30-page workbook full of activity sheets about iguanas, My Unit Study on Iguanas. Remember that the green iguanas you color, don’t have to be green!
I love having animals in my life. Over the years, they’ve mostly been reptiles and lately, if you’ve been following my story, there’s a horse tale in it.
If we accept responsibility for an animal, we are responsible for its welfare, even if we have to sacrifice for it. This has come up in the care of my horse. She developed chronic sinusitis as a result of an abscessed tooth. Every month, the equine dentist comes out to do the next step in her care. Of course, this specialist’s care costs money. But I took responsibility for her life, so I owe Button the best care I can provide. Apparently, not all horse owners feel the same way, which is very sad to me. There are several famous quotes about judging a person by the way he cares for his fellow animals.
The impetus for this post was a statement in a local neighborhood chat room. The person posting had observed a bobcat enjoying its dinner. A wonderful sight to see in the limited wilderness remaining in the Sonoran Desert. However, the poster concluded that the bobcat’s only purpose was as a threat to local dogs and cats. The bobcat was most likely eating a rabbit – it’s been a good year for rabbits. Of course, the danger from coyotes was included in the post.
I disagree that local wildlife is the threat to domestic companion animals. The problem is people not taking proper care of their pets. When I let my reptiles out in the backyard, I stay with them. We have birds of prey in the area that could carry off an iguana. The bobcats could enjoy a nice turtle or tortoise meal—but it’s not on them. It’s my job as their human companion to ensure their safety in the environment I place them.
Along with watching out for our dogs and pets, I also feel it is our duty to ensure that our pets don’t harm the local wildlife. Billions of birds are killed each year by cats. Please keep your cats inside, where they are safe and healthy, or use a leash. Many people love to feed the birds in their yards but are unable to enjoy them due to a cat(s). I run into cat predation in my iguana conservation work. Too many are the years we don’t see any juvenile iguanas because they’ve all been killed by domestic pets that the iguanas didn’t recognize as predators. Dogs are equally dangerous when not properly supervised.
People, please protect and control your furry family members. We can all thrive together in this world.
Remember, if the local bobcat or coyote gets your family member, it is not the predator’s fault. It’s yours. Protect your pet!
Geology is the science that explores the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it. Geology is often included under the topic of Earth Sciences. You might be surprised to learn that I often include geology in my fun science books that feature lizards. You can’t really study biology without knowing the geology of the ecosystem.Everything is interconnected.
One of my favorite inclusions in The Dragon of Nani Cave in the mineral, caymanite.
Hidden in the limestone karst of Grand Cayman’s East End and the Bluff of Cayman Brac is an uncommon variety of dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. Caymanite is prized for its layers of earth tone colors, which are the result of different metal contents. Its harness allows for it to be shaped into jewelry and carvings.
InThe Dragon of Nani Cave, the Lime Lizard Ladsare sent on a quest to find a piece of caymanite for Old Soldier crab. It’s the most dangerous thing a lizard can do on Cayman Brac, because that’s where the dragon lives! One of the fun things about being an author is having a say in the design of the book cover. I had mine when I asked that the book title be colored just like caymanite.
As a science book writer, I am asked to speak at schools and libraries about my favorite subject: reptiles. I often use props to help people visualize the facts I present. For instance, an iguana egg is about the size of a marshmallow. So, I bring a bag of marshmallows to use and, when allowed, for the kids to eat. The last time I spoke, one bag didn’t get used and the soft puffs got hard. These hard marshmallows brought back a memory from my childhood involving alligators on Sanibel Island, FL.
When I was a child, people in the park gathered at a bridge to feed marshmallows to the local gators. It was not well understood then how we were affecting the local alligators’ behavior. We know now how bad it is to feed wild animals. Not only is the food not good for them, they lose their fear of people and become “problem” animals. Simply relocating them doesn’t usually work, because they are plopped down in the middle of another’s territory and a moved individual can be killed by its own kind already there.
But back to my story about feeding marshmallows to alligators. The only marshmallows Mom could find in the trailer was a forgotten bag way back on a shelf. The usually fluffy confections were rock hard. But we were going to throw them in the water and gators have a bite strength of 2125 pounds per square inch, so a hard marshmallow should be no problem, right? I soon joined the other feeders tossing the treats into the water. Their marshmallows bobbed until a gator stealthily approached, snatched it rapidly, submerged, and re-emerged a short distance away, waiting for the next one. Several gators took turns gobbling down the sugary snacks.
Until they got to my marshmallows. A gator approached,
quickly bit down on one and submerged.
Suddenly, the water erupted with thrashing. The marshmallow was released
. . . unscathed. The gator swam away. This happened again and again until all
the gators failed at damaging my marshmallows and swam away in disgust. The
other people looked at me angrily. I had driven all the alligators away, leaving
only my hardened marshmallows bobbing in the gently moving water.
I like to think that in my unintentional way, my disgusting marshmallows helped prevent a few alligators from becoming “problem” animals.
I guess I was a conservationist even back then.
I hope you will check out my books on the subject of Conservation. I love to make science books fun–it is a part of who I am–but conservation is a subject deserving of both our respect and action. Saving endangered species and looking out for all life on the only planet we and they have is up to all of us.
Iguanas are an important part of my life. They are featured in the children’s book I wrote called The Dragon of Nani Cave, which is an adventure tale starring curly-tail lizards ,Gene and Bony, who live on Cayman Brac. I weave the science of the island into the story, because science can be fun!
I am also the author of the book Silent Rocks, which is for all ages, and is about how to save the endangered Rock Iguana of Cayman Brac.
Most iguanas are found in the Americas and on Caribbean islands. They are grouped into three types: iguanas like the common green iguana, rock iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas. Each has evolved to thrive in their native environment. Unfortunately, through international commerce, the green iguana, Iguana iguana, has been introduced into ecosystems where they don’t belong.
Have you ever
wondered how to tell iguanas apart? Being
able to accurately identify iguana species is important to telling the
difference between native iguanas and the invasive green iguanas. I have
nothing against green iguanas. I’ve known many through the years as pets and
when I operated an iguana rescue. Unfortunately, they are damaging the
ecosystems and out-competing the native species.
live in an environment with many predators. So, greens lay many eggs and adapt
to many foods. They have that in common with rock iguanas, who are also
opportunistic eaters. (Sadly, they’ll even eat human food.)
But back to
the telling iguanas apart. There are now booklets that show the physical
differences. Rock iguanas don’t have the gorgeous subtympanic scale–that’s the
big scale under the ear–that the green iguanas have. My mother called it the
‘jewel.’ It is lovely, in many pretty colors. No other iguanas have that scale.
Greens also have little points on their dewlaps. A dewlap is the piece of skin
under the chin. ( Oooh, that rhymes.) The greens have smooth, striped tails.
Other iguanas have less striped tails. Rock iguanas have that nice
ribbing along the tail, while spiny-tails have keeled scales on their tail
giving them a rough appearance.
I wanted to produce an item that would aid people in correctly identifying iguanas, something that was convenient to carry and interesting to look at. I was asked to make the text rhyme because this helps in memorizing the facts. Anderson Atlas, John Binns and I have prepared these conveniently-sized booklets that people can carry around with them.
Check them out –they’re free. Please use the contact form on the Contact Page to request copies of these brochures for iguana identification.
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