In the Wild With Jackie: Leapin' Lizards, It's the Blue Belly!

By Jackie Johansen

This time of year, Menifee is just crawling with lizards!

These quick-footed animals can catch you off-guard sometimes, but they are great for your garden. They are often seen basking in the sun, where they absorb heat, and can often be seen doing something that can only be compared to human push-ups. This motion is done for the same reasons that that some humans do push-ups: To show their strength and to attract mates.

This display marks their territory and warns other lizards to stay out. If you ever get a chance to observe these push-ups, you might think that the lizard is trying to threaten you, but there is a better chance that there is another lizard lurking around that you didn’t even notice.

What lizards have you seen in Menifee? The most common type is formally called the “Western Fence Lizard,” also known as the “blue belly.” These names suit this species well because they are often found basking in the sun on rock walls or on fences, and can also be seen running up your stucco.

If you happen to be brave enough to pick up one of these lizards, you will find that their ventral side (the underneath) is brightly colored with blue stripes on either side -- hence the nickname of “blue belly.”

Blue belly lizards are also small medical miracles. These lizards create a protein that kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This bacterium is carried in the gut of the western black-legged tick. When the tick bites onto and stays attached to a human for a few days, the bacteria is transferred to the human.

If an infected tick bites and attaches to the blue belly lizard, the protein from the blood of the lizard is transferred to the gut of the tick, and the tick is actually healed from the bacteria, and is no longer a carrier of Lyme disease. This amazing feature is still not fully understood, but is likely the reason California has had a much lower occurrence of Lyme disease than in eastern states.

What animals have you seen in Menifee lately?

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.


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