Lizards are part of the deal in Arizona. The scaly little buggers scurry between patio planters and along retaining walls — sometimes beguiling, other times scaring the bejesus out of us.
You can parlay love or fear of the creatures into a respectable amount of lizard lore Saturday, when Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior hosts Learn Your Lizards. Three Arizona lizard experts will guide the reptile-finding expeditions.
“People are excited to learn more about these creatures that they’ve kind of just gotten used to and taken for granted,” says Chris Kline, education director at the arboretum.
“They get really enthralled to learn about things like breeding colors: Male lizards will get really bold, beautiful coloring during breeding season, and it turns into something people can watch for once they know about it.”
Tempe resident and “Reptiles of Arizona” field guide co-author Tom Brennan; University of Arizona reptile researcher Phil Rosen; and Arizona Game and Fish Department official Randy Babb will lead the tours.
“They’re big-name folks, so we’re jazzed to have them here,” says Kline. “We’ll divvy folks up into smaller groups, so it’s a little easier to see things, and each leader will probably cover a pretty extensive area of the grounds.”
On their walk, participants will learn how to identify different lizards. They’ll also learn about lizard behavior, such as why they seem to do “pushups.”
The 320-acre arboretum at the foot of iceberglike Picketpost Mountain is home to a variety of the reptiles, including greater earless lizards, Western whiptail lizards and desert spiny lizards — blocky lizards that can grow to the size of a bratwurst and have rows of prickly, iridescent scales.
“When I was a kid growing up in Tempe, tree lizards were the ones that walked along the block walls between houses, the ones the dogs and cats would catch,” says Kline
“People will see a lot of those. The biggest that we see with any sort of regularity are the Gila monsters. We don’t get them every time, but several times during the summer we spot them on lizard walks.”
Kline says a chuckwalla — a large member of the iguana family — was spotted at the facility by birders in mid-June, causing a buzz of excitement. The chunky crevice-dwellers have been rumored to inhabit the area, but it’s been years since a sighting.
“We get lots of families who come out for this one. Sometimes they’ll catch a lizard or two on a walk and let the kids touch them, which the kids get a big kick out of. Lizards are just these little critters you’ve always watched crawling around but never really knew much about,” says Kline.
The arboretum is an outdoor venue; wear sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and comfortable walking shoes. Water is available for purchase in the gift shop, or you can bring your own. Make sure you have plenty since the walk will probably take about two hours.
Another lizard walk is scheduled for Aug. 9; Casa Grande ecologist “Wild Man Phil” Rakoci will guide the tour.
Take a walk on the reptile side
What: Tempe author Tom Brennan, a reptile researcher from the University of Arizona, and an Arizona Game and Fish Department expert help you spot lizards that are spiny, earless and side-blotched during this educational walk and talk about some of the most frequently seen — but little understood — desert dwellers.
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, U.S. 60, near Superior (45 minutes east of Mesa)
Cost: Free with arboretum admission of $7.50 for adults; $3 for children ages 5-12
Information: (520) 689-2811 or www.btarboretum.org.