I love it when animals do what they're "supposed to do". Like when an otter runs across a log like a slinky. Or when a Wood Stork drops the feet down for splashdown like an airplane lowering the landing gear. Sometimes it's just as exciting when an animal does something that they're not "supposed to do".
Today's eco-tour had 2 separate families, each with 2 teenagers. One of the young girls was excited to see snakes and alligators. Alligators are no problem at this time of the year. They sit in the sun and bask. Today we saw well over 400. But snakes are tougher and she was disappointed when we didn't see them on the boardwalk and had not seen them on our wildlife drive. But as we were rumbling down the crushed limestone, water board dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve, I noticed a dark line ahead in the distance. Excited for our first snake of the day, I had the group carefully get out of the van and head closer to investigate the reptile that was sunning itself in the road. I explained that this was not one of the 4 venomous snakes in the Everglades (i.e. Diamondback Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth, Coral Snake and Pygmy Rattlesnake). I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but instructed the girl with her camera to slowly move forward to take a picture if she wished. She did and we were all able to get very close and as I looked carefully, I still couldn't match the color patterns with any snake I'd seen before. And then it blinked.
Snakes don't blink. They have no eyelids! This was not a snake. "Legless Lizard!" I shouted feeling somewhat like Little Orphan Annie. This happened to be an Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis) which looks a lot like a snake. Just no legs! They do have eyelids, can chew their food and have ears. (unlike snakes that have no eyelids or ears and must swallow their food) This species is common in wetlands and grasslands and the only legless lizard in the Everglades. It's important to handle them carefully. Two-thirds of their body is tail and as a defense, the tail can break (like glass) and then regrow. They slither like a snake too and true to form, when I touched the tail, it slithered quickly towards the group, eliciting screams from the girls, and possibly me, (but who can say), and then it slithered into the sawgrass.
I'm glad I saw it blink. It felt like such a revelation and it reminded me of the importance to look a little closer, be patient and the reward is seeing and learning something new.
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