Archive for March 14th, 2009

First Gila Monster of the year—It must be Spring!

Posted on March 14, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Science |

gila I was looking into my back garden yesterday—I always want to see what all the wildlife is up to—and I noticed this large reptilian lump perching on one of the fence-rungs. The creature had its back to me (mooning me!) so I couldn’t look at it’s little lizard face, but it looked about 6 inches long. It was too fat for a common garden lizard, though. Those are generally skinny little things. Fortunately I keep a pair of binoculars in the house (Is the term “PAIR of binoculars” redundant, actually, as the word “binocular” contains the prefix “bi” which already means “two”?  —‘scuse me, my thoughts sometimes go off like this…) so I ran to fetch them before the small dragon-y thing moved.

Turns out it was a baby Gila Monster! Oh boy! It was the first time I’d seen one in my own backyard! Gila Monsters get their name from the Gila River in southern Arizona, where they used to be quite abundant. For those who don’t know, “Gila” is pronounced “HEE-lah”, following the Spanish pronunciation of the letter “G”, and is a Spanish transliteration of a Tohono O’odham word meaning something like “the salty water stream”. I’m not sure where the “Monster” comes from. They can get about two feet long, and their bite is venomous (one of only two species of poisonous lizards in the US), but calling them “Monsters” is, I think, a little over the top.

I often wonder how I ended up in a place where so much of the vegetation AND animal life has fangs, claws, spikes, spines, and needles. Must reflect my personality. 😉 Though venomous, as I said, a Gila Monster bite is not fatal to humans, and they are so slow moving we can easily outrun them—with a slow walk! Most of these prickly spiny creatures don’t want any more to do with us than we with them, and will only attack if provoked. Additionally, Gilas are usually quite visible in a garden. The first thing I noticed about my baby visitor was how scaly the little reptile was. You might think “Of course s/he was scaly! S/he’s a lizard!”, and you’d be right, but this was different; I could see each individual bead-like scale quite distinctly. And Gila Monsters have broad tan or orange and black patterns. You will see one if one is there. They don’t blend well with the cactus, so it made me wonder why they were this color; what their natural camouflage was. I snooped around the Internet and saw these pictures which showed me they do blend well into a multi-colored river rock environment. Their colorings also remind me of some native pottery designs.

The species is native to the southern parts of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico, and do not appear elsewhere. They are now a protected species. They’re quite elusive, generally, so it was a real treat to have one visit. My new friend will probably head underground as the weather heats up; not to be seen again.

In other nature news, and with more evidence of Spring, I must ask: “Are doves as dumb as posts?” Now, mind you, I don’t don’t object to our desert doves in general, even though their constant “coo-coo” can get to me at times. But…I have a light fixture in front of my house. It is a glass enclosed light, and the outside glass rectangle has about a three-inch square top. Occasionally, one of our local birds decides this is a wonderful perch, and will sit up there (and poop!) until I chase them away. Three days ago, I noticed a pair of birds flying back and forth across my kitchen window, and, believe it or not, were trying to build a NEST up there. I guess my covered doorway looked sheltered to them, or something, but can you imagine trying to build a nest on a 3-inch piece of glass suspended 5 feet in the air?

At first I laughed to watch them. They would fetch twig after twig, spilled from my neighbor’s mesquite tree (twigs so thin as to be like toothpicks) and pile them up on my light…and they’d promptly fall off! So, then, they’d gather more…which would fall off! Soon, I had a rather enormous pile of mesquite twigs on my front porch. If this kept up, I’d wouldn’t be able to leave my house. I’d be “twigged-in”. So, I chased them away; swept up the twigs, and thought that was an end to it. An hour later they were back, and back at it. The world “birdbrained” did not creep its way into the language by accident. This time, I put a balled-up t-shirt up there, since that had worked once before when another pair had been trying to nest on my back pillar.

I’m not anti-bird. I’m all for supporting this pair’s reproductive urges. I enjoy seeing a nest, and watching the babies hatch (except for quail, perhaps. Gila Monsters eat Quail eggs, heh) This was just an impossible situation for us all, though. It turns out they liked the t-shirt; probably felt softer than a pane of glass with three twigs on it. I didn’t want to do anything poisonous or injurious, I just wanted them to take their twigs and…So, I finally filled an old shampoo bottle with water, and set it on top of the light, giving them nowhere to land. Success!

(They did let me (and my front window) know, loudly, what they thought of my plan before they departed.)

Happy Spring, if Spring there be, where you are. 😀

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