Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fabulous find at Flora Quest 2012

When I last left you, I penned a post showcasing a cool find from a trip to Adams County, Ohio. That was almost a month ago, and I just found myself in Adams County again this weekend. This time I was at Flora Quest, which took place in and around Shawnee State Forest. The event, which was started in 2007, draws lovers of not only flora, but also fauna, from all around the state of Ohio and beyond. We spent a full day and a half in the field, looking for all of the wonderful gifts that Shawnee and environs has to offer. Given the incredibly warm spring that we've had, many plants are at least 2 weeks ahead of schedule, and many things that would normally be in bloom right now are well past their prime. The upside of this is that there are plants blooming now that we would not normally expect to see blooming until much later in May.

Honestly, I did not get many flower photos this year, partially because a hugely overcast day in a very wooded area made for miserable photo-taking conditions (especially since the flash on my camera is on the fritz), and partially because I spent a lot of time tuning in to the b-i-r-d-s. Nevertheless, my camera was always with me, and I was able to catch quite an incredible event with it.

First, though, a little bit of back story.

When I visited Adams County back in early April, I saw an Eastern Fence Lizard for the first time ever. Actually, we saw two of them that day: first a female, and then a male. One has to move quickly to catch these lizards, as they will immediately run for a tree the moment something starts coming its way. But we had some fast folks on hand that day who were able to carefully grab a specimen for observation (not to mention some very sharp-eyed folks to be able to spot them in the first place). The males and females are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the sexes can be told apart based on appearance. Below you will see first a female, and then a male. The females are more boldly patterned along the back.

If you turn them over, the difference between the sexes becomes more apparent. The female is plain-colored on the underside, whereas the male has a blue band across the throat, outlined in black, with blue also on either side of the belly.

Female fence lizard, with her plain belly showing

Male fence lizard, with blue throat band and blue on the belly

These lizards hibernate during the winter months, and once they come out of hibernation, territories are set up and mating begins. According to the ODNR species account for Eastern Fence Lizards, incubation lasts from 6-8 weeks, and then a clutch of anywhere from 5 to 12 eggs will be laid. Fast forward from April to May, when our Flora Quest group on Saturday was extremely fortunate, in that we came across a female who was laying eggs.

I've been able to make out 11 eggs in this photo, 6 directly behind the female (who is well-camouflaged among the leaves), and 5 more off to her right, near the right edge of the photo. The eggs are small, about the size of an M&M candy, but more oblong in shape. I'm not sure who in our group made this discovery, but we were all just blown away by it. Obviously she wasn't going to scurry away anywhere, since she was in the middle of some very important business. Given the incubation period of 6-8 weeks, that means that the female I photographed in early April could have very well already been pregnant when we caught her. Who knows, she could have been laying eggs on this very same day. (Saturday's lizard was in a location that is quite a distance from the early-April lizard, though, so it's definitely NOT the same lizard.)

Female Eastern Fence Lizard, laying eggs

Of course I felt very fortunate to have witnessed this in person, as I'm sure it's something I'm not likely to come across again. But I could not help but feel that we violated this process for her, and made it very stressful for her. She was right alongside the trail, and luckily she was off to the side enough that we weren't in danger of stepping on her. It was obvious that we had disturbed her, and I saw her draw in at least one very deep breath while I was taking photos of her. Whether that was part of her labor process, or if it was a stress response, I don't know, but I couldn't help feeling like we needed to leave her be as soon as possible. Luckily our group was small, so there weren't too many of us to cycle through, each taking photos. I just hope our presence and the attention that we paid to her didn't draw too much (or any attention) to her while she was in this very vulnerable state.

As we left her, we all wished her well, and thanked her for the story she enabled us to tell. Hopefully later this summer the eggs will hatch successfully, and the cycle will begin again.


Tricia said...

Amazing! Wouldn't you love to see those lizardletts when they hatch?!!

Mary Ann said...

How cool is that?! Thanks for sharing. :)

Friend of HK said...

So exciting to see lizard laying eggs!

Kelly said...

...really interesting post, Heather! I enjoyed learning about another critter.

Weedpicker Cheryl said...

Thanks for sharing this great story!

Scott said...

That's too cool, I think the early spring let us see a lot of different things this year. Also very nice to meet you in person.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Well, I never thought I'd see something like that! Thank you SO much for sharing! But the Science Chimp is wondering...the only lizard nests I've found have been five-lined skink nests, and those eggs were buried in sawdust. I am wondering about this. Does she lay them and then bury them in the duff? Scurrying off to try to find the answer. I can't imagine they'd survive long just laying out exposed on the leaf litter like that--dessication would certainly take a toll.
Oh the temptation to take a few to incubate at home! I'm sure it never crossed your mind ; )

Julie Zickefoose said...

Perhaps she'd dig a burrow after laying the eggs? And I also learned that they lay several clutches a year! We should be drowning in them!

From a very cute YouTube vid, showing an EFLI burying her eggs while looking back at the videographer: "This Eastern Fence Lizard was laying her eggs by my garage. When she finished, she started scratching dirt in the hole and packing the dirt with her nose and front feet. Then she would shake her head to sling off the dirt. She finished the job by rolling some big clods over the cashe." (sic).

Heather said...

Dearest Science Chimp: We assumed that she would bury the eggs. She was obviously very startled by us coming up on her so suddenly, and she mostly stayed frozen while we all snapped photos. There were a few eggs that were separate from the grouping that's just to her rear, and we actually covered them over before we left (which I hope didn't mess with her final plan). I can only assume that she buried them after we left - otherwise they would be subject to all kinds of peril, as you mention.

Emily Brisse said...


I just found your blog. These photos and the story you've woven around great. What an amazing experience. Can't wait to see/read more!

Heather said...

Hi Emily - thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the lizard story. Stay tuned for stories about my recent adventures in northern Michigan.