Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lizards on a String

Paul Hirst (Phirst)

Osama 1, the terrorist, sedately snoozes away under warm light in the space he’s staked out for himself. On occasion, when the mood strikes and without warning, he turns nasty. A flare of the throat, bobbing of the head and sudden rapid leaps are enough to strike fear into anyone nearby.

Jefferson Heard

That would be Osama 2, the coward. When Osama 1 is out of sorts, he simply retreats into a cave and hides out for awhile. His hiding can last from a few hours to days. Sometimes, only food or water are enough to lure him back out into open territory.


These two are small Anole lizards that live with us. We’ve had them for over 4 years now, acquiring them by default. Originally, I bought them to live in one of several terrariums that I had my students at school set up. I did not teach there the next year, and since no one would take responsibility for the lizards, I ended up keeping them. They require little care; during our infrequent travels our trusty “lizard sitter”, Danielle, gives them her own special brand of TLC.

As a young girl attending the Montana State Fair, I’d find vendors selling these - each tethered by a string tied around its neck, attached to a safety pin, and displayed on felt-covered boards. The idea was to pin them to your shirt and wear them as “living ornaments”. Several years I came home with one of these little treasures. I loved animals (any animal) and knew of nowhere else to get one, and felt sorry for them, seeing the need to rescue them from those dratted display boards. More than a jewel for me, as soon as I got mine home, off came the string and in he went to his own little new home - usually a large jar outfitted with twigs, grass and water. I’d gladly catch bugs to feed him and spend hours watching him change from green to brown and back again, then lull him into a trance by holding him on his back and stroking his belly. Things did not always go well with them, though. I watched one die a long, agonizing death while it rubbed its belly and turned a deep blackish color - the result, we thought maybe, of eating bugs that had been sprayed. (My parents owned commercial greenhouses and used sprays then that would never be allowed now.) Another one got loose, only to show up dead in a load of clothes that my mother removed from the washer. “Well, at least he died a clean death.” she said.


We’ve enjoyed these two. Both males, although looking exactly alike, they have very unique personalities. You cannot tell them apart by the way they look, you have to watch carefully how they act. In fact, I did not even bother to name them until after 9-11, when the name Osama reared its head. Osama 1 is usually very laid back. When I spray water in for them to drink, he closes his eyes, acts disinterested, and lets it drip off the end of his snout. When dinner is served (live crickets and other bugs) he acts like he couldn’t care less. Osama 2, on the other hand, is very high strung. The water spray drives him nuts - he races around the cage as if I’d sprayed him with acid. He attacks dinner as if there were no tomorrow. Strange bedfellows, these two.


Then there’s the way they act towards each other. Although terrorism and cowardice are occasional, total avoidance of each other is the usual behavior. However, when the temperature drops too low for their welfare, they gravitate towards each other. One will actually climb on the back of the other, hugging him tightly, to conserve and share what warmth there is. When they need to, they do band together - if only for sheer survival.

Are we so different?

lanare Sevi

("Anole lizards were once all the rage at amusement parks. People would win these guys on the fairgrounds, then wear them as "living jewelry." A harness with a short string was attached to the lizard, and people pinned the string on their outfits. It was a bizarre and inhumane practice.

Sometimes these slender lizards are sold as chameleons, but they aren't related to true chameleons. Anoles gained the moniker because they may also change color, though not as brilliantly as most chameleons.

There are 200 species of Anole lizards. The green Anole is the only species native to the United States and the one seen most often in pet stores." Steve Dale, My Pet World - 11/13/2000 - SunSentinel)

Four things on earth are small,
     yet they are extremely wise:

...a lizard can be caught with the hand,
     yet it is found in kings’ palaces.
              Proverbs 30:24 and 28

Two are better than one,
     because they have a good return for their work:

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
     But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
     two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
        Ecclesiastes 4:9, 11 and 12

picture files from Wikimedia Commons


  1. "at least he died a clean death" Oh, goodness, the funny things moms (me included lol) say sometimes. :-)

    I bought one of these at the fair when I was a child, too! I loved him so much. I called him "Chameleon" (original name, hunh?). It was great to learn more about them and to hear about the two you own, and I love the verses you included. Thank you for sharing!

  2. My mom was a very down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of person. What she said was the truth (and a lesson to me to keep better track of my pets...) We've enjoyed these lizards and give them very good care, but it saddens me to think of how many thousands did NOT survive yet another novelty fad we humans seem to follow every so often. To me all life is of value and not to be cheapened in this way - even if they are "only" lizards.

  3. Your mom sounds like she was an admirable person. ♥ I completely agree with you and am nodding my head regarding that fad and the value of life. Wise words! What those poor creatures had to endure is very sad.

  4. For me, the interesting part was that each has unique personality and unique traits. So often, we humans do not see the individual in animals. I wonder why.

    On that note, I've always loved to collect rocks. Each one is unique and "pretty because..." in a unique way. This is a trait that many young children have and few of us keep to adulthood. So maybe, it's not just animals that we tend to generalize but all of nature that unique personalities that we miss out on by not observing the qualities of our world.

    Well, maybe I should also say that one of the things I enjoy about your blog, Ladybug, is that quality of seeing the unique and personal in God's world.

  5. oh no...just left a long comment...and then mistakenly...closed 'tab'!!

    i love your pictures & the stories behind each anole!! it's wonderful!!

    my brother and i each had an anole as a kid...well, more than one actually...because as each always seemed to escape the tank...only to be found a while later...behind a piece of furniture...skeletonized...we'd go out and get another!! i grew up in NY...and was so surprised when i moved to FL...to see these little 'pets' running freely all over the place!! ha!

    i also remember kids 'clipping' these little critters to their earlobes...wearing them as earrings when the anoles bit down!! not me, though...i just liked to observe... :]

    GREAT POST....thanks for letting me know!

  6. Thanks for your comments, Laura. I had not heard of "wearing" them on one's earlobes, but we have seemed to put the little critters through a lot of misery...BTW, I did not take these photos, as did not have this blog site at the time I wrote the article. Can't take credit for those, but did think they showed what I needed to go-with.

  7. ... Thank You... Thank You... Thank You... I had many anoles growing up as a child... and I loved them so much. So very much that my mother became jealous... and told me a terrible story. She told me that when she was little that people would sell anoles and pin them on their shirts. When I asked how then pinned them... because I was worried for the poor little creatures... she told me they put a pin through the lizard. When I asked what happened to the lizard... She said... "They died, I guess." I have lived with the horror of this for about thirty years... I was probably about six years old at the time. That's how I ended up here... GRATEFULLY to find out that they were put on a string. My mother is obviously more mentally ill than I imagined. Thank You... I feel so relieved... I just can't explain it.