Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

May 2012: Eastern Fence Lizard


Female Fence Lizard


Eastern Fence Lizard

Sceloporus undulatus


Who am I?


A little dinosaur? Not really, but I am a reptile, a lizard, a fast lizard.  I look just like tree bark, with brown, grey, white and bluish keeled scales. (A keeled scale has a ridge down the center like the keel of a boat. Snakes sometimes have keeled scales as well.) I can grow to 4-7 inches long! Males of my kind have blue scales on their sides and underbellies. Females are more brownish. The males are very territorial and will defend their area with elaborate displays of blue-belly flashing.  Sometome between April and June  I will lay a group of anywhere from 5-15 eggs in a hole I've dug in the soft moist ground. Then my job is done. The eggs will hatch in two or three months. The little ones are on their own. And, hey, they look just like me. It will be a year or two before the males start to show their blue sides and underbellies.


Where can you find me?


I live in forests, though I can be found near homes and as my name suggests I like to hang out on split rail fences. I like sunlight and dry areas so don’t expect to find me in shady or wet areas. Should you see me I will either run or freeze, hoping my camoflage will protect me. If I am hiding, don't blink becasue I can disappear instantly! I can be found throughout the eastern United States.


What do I eat?


I will sit and wait from my favorite perch for something small to pass by. A beetle perhaps? Really any insect will do.


What might eat me?

Other lizards! Especially the broad-headed skink. Snakes and birds will also eat me if they can catch me.


Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • Like many lizards I have fracture plates in my tail that allow me to sever the tail whenever I want. It will grow back in time, sort of. But I will never look the same.
  • I have overlapping scales which make me look rough and spiny.
  • Males of my species defend their territory by doing push ups! ... and flashing our blue underbellies. If all else fails, we will fight..

October 2011: Northern Black Racer

Northern Black Racer


Northern Black Racer

Coluber constrictor constrictor


Who am I?

I am the black snake that everyone loves and adores, except for those who try to chop our heads off with a shovel. Very rude, that is. I am reasonably big, growing to about 5 feet long and a couple of inches across. I am fast and graceful. I will chase you down with style. Ok, I won’t, but I could. Unless you are prey in which case watch out! Try to out run a snake that can move 10 mph and see where you wind up. Enough bragging. I will mate and lay hard-shelled eggs from April to June. Sometimes relatives and other types of snakes will lay their eggs in my nest as well! (Or I might choose to lay my eggs with theirs.) My thirty babies will hatch out sometime between August and September, be between 2-4” long and already hungry! It will take 2 years for my babies to be old enough to start their own families.

Where can you find me?

We prefer open areas with some cover. You will find us in fields, grasslands and the edges of forests. My friends and I can be found all over the East Coast of North America. Sadly our numbers are declining in areas where there is a lot of development. Too much grass mowing and the food is disappearing. Those pesky black rat snakes are better at hunting in the woods than we are so they get all the good forest food. So look for me while you are walking along a trail near the forest edge. I will be watching you. I am a curious critter and often will just sit up and watch you go by.

What do I eat?

The old rule of thumb for carnivores works well for me. I will eat just about anything that will fit in my mouth! Generally these are things like insects and their larvae, lizards and skinks, small mice and voles, birds, frogs, eggs, toads – you know, snake food! I hunt during the day and travel around quite a bit looking for food. Of course, if I have just had a nice mouse lunch you might find me sun bathing – gotta keep that tan up.

What might eat me?

As an adult I do not have many predators. Don’t try to corner me because I will fight back. I will bite hard and frequently with painful results. Most folks (without shovels) tend to leave me alone. Still some birds of prey might get me. It is when I am younger, smaller, less able to escape or fight that I have to really watch out. All sorts of predators like raccoons, birds, kingsnakes, skunks, cats and dogs will try to eat me when I am small. When I am young, fortunately, I have a pattern on my back that will help me hide – if that nasty predator doesn’t have a great sniffer.

Cool reasons why I the critter of the month!

  • I lay my eggs communally.
  • I used to be ( and sometimes still am) very common.
  • I am non-poisonous.
  • I eat mice and voles so DON’T CHOP MY HEAD OFF!

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