First Lizard Found in Museum's Nature Gardens!

December 23, 2014

On November 19, 2014 something happened at work that I’ve been waiting three and half years for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t here to witness it, but thanks to citizen science I was able to celebrate the discovery, even though I was 6,187 miles away. On that day, newly turned citizen scientist Toni Castillo documented the first lizard in the Museum’s Nature Gardens.

Photo courtesy of Toni Castillo The lizard in question was a Western Fence Lizard, Sceleporus occidentalis, and Toni, a Museum staffer, just happened to see it as she was walking through the gardens. “I was walking next to the Living Wall and saw something in the pathway. At first I thought it was a leaf or a stick, but then I looked closer and realized it was a lizard.” Toni knew that this was a unique find—she’d heard from other Museum staff that no lizards had been documented in the Nature Gardens before—and realized she had to get proof. “I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I was really excited and kept thinking, it’s a lizard here! It was like seeing a unicorn. Luckily I had my phone in my back pocket and I was able to pull it out and snap some pictures.” Later that day word spread. Toni told a few other Museum staff and sent them pictures. Everyone was excited—we had built the Nature Gardens as a refuge for wildlife in the city, but we’d still never documented a lizard in the space. The last time anyone had documented a lizard in Exposition Park was in March of 2010, when some citizen science volunteers observed two Western Fence Lizards on the south steps of the Museum. Dr. Greg Pauly, the Museum’s curator of herpetology was another one delighted by the observation, and has high hopes that the lizard will stick around. “This Western Fence Lizard appears to be a male and he is a bit beaten up with a stump-tail.” But, even with these apparent injuries, Greg is still optimistic. “Let’s hope he finds a female and our Gardens become populated with young fence lizards next summer.” This lizard sighting is important for many reasons. Not only is it a first for our Nature Gardens and possibly the beginning of a Museum lizard population, but it is also one of only a few urban L.A. records in our Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) project. The project has been running for 18 months and has received close to 5,000 observations, but only a very small number of these records are from urban areas. Toni's observation is another small step to helping Greg better understand how lizards and other reptiles and amphibians survive in Los Angeles. So while you’re out and about exploring urban L.A. over the holidays, take a moment to snap pictures of any lizards you see and send them into RASCals to help us make another small step (nature@nhm.org). We really need your help!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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