And Now for Something Completely Different

Yesterday afternoon, our good friend Paul McCormack (aka Critter Man) stopped by to a) drop off a roadkilled mink for our collection, and b) to show us his new friend, Sheldon.

Now, you might think Sheldon is a snake – he’s long and thin and scaly, and he has no legs.

But take a closer look…what do you see?  There…behind the mouth…a hole!  It’s an ear!  Snakes don’t have ears!

And what is he doing in this washed-out photo?  Is he actually blinking?  Snakes don’t have eyelids!

Sheldon is a very unusual reptile known as a legless or glass lizard.  We have glass lizards here in the States, but Sheldon comes from the other side of the world (I think Paul may have said Bosnia).  The “glass” part of the name comes from the habit these lizards share with many other of their kin:  their tails can (and do) break off if grabbed by potential predators, allowing the lizard to escape while the predator focuses on the twitching and writhing tail.

Now, here’s another nifty fact about these critters.  Take a look at his belly – or more accurately, his side, just below Carrie’s thumb in the photo below.  See how the belly looks almost like a patch that has been added to the body?  Snakes have flexible ribs that can “expand” when the snake’s eyes have been bigger than its stomach.  Glass lizards don’t have that luxury.  However, if a glass lizard eats something that is larger than its body can handle, that “belly patch” can expand.  The “line” just below Carrie’s thumb, which runs all the way down the side of the lizard, is actually a fold, like a pleat in a skirt or a cactus.  If the animal needs to expand its girth to accommodate a large meal, it “unfolds” that pleat and voila!  Comfort is restored once more.  How cool is that!?!

At first we were looking at Sheldon inside, but the room was chilly and Paul thought we’d get a bit more action if we took him out into the sunshine.  Sure enough, he started to slither along and flick his tongue at all the new scents.  It’s very difficult to photograph a reptile flicking its tongue – invariably it does it either before or after you press the shutter release.  After about 80 shots, though, I was able to just capture it as Sheldon quickly took another air sample.  Like other slithery reptiles, the tongue is forked, and, like the blue-tongued skink’s, it is blue!

A group of homeschoolers happened to be at Dahlem when we had Sheldon out in the sun, and soon he had a bevy of admirers.  If he’d had appendages, he could’ve been signing autographs.

So, you just never know what you will find when you make a trip out to Dahlem!

If you’d like to meet Sheldon, we are planning to have Paul out in January or February to do a program, and I’m sure Sheldon will be part of the show.  Keep an eye out for the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of PawPrints (which will be out some time in late December).


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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