The Green Monster is back!

It’s Red Sox opening day and we’re finally getting some sun and warm temperatures. Baseball fans aren’t the only ones defrosting down in the Fenway; I just got word that an Italian Wall Lizard, our “Green Monster,” poked its head out of one of the compost piles it most likely over-wintered in.

Go Red Sox and Hurrah for the Green Monster!

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Here’s an Italian Wall Lizard from last Fall in the Gardens. No new pictures yet this spring but stay tuned!

The Boston Podarcis (part 2)

So last post was talking about a visit from October 2nd last year. Over the next several days, we made quite a few more trips to check on the lizards, and we kept finding more! Here are a few pictures:

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The whole group sees a lizard!

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The whole survey crew from Harvard, Boston University, and UMass Boston. Photo: Joe Martinez

All in all we’ve found over a dozen animals, pretty well spread out through the whole garden! What’s more, there were juveniles too so we know they’re successfully breeding. While no one can remember if they’ve been there for more than a year, it seems highly unlikely that they managed to spread so far afield and successfully reproduce just in 2016. My guess is that 2016 was their second year in Boston and they survived the relatively mild 2015-2016 winter by hunkering down in the garden’s many warm compost piles.

As to how they got there, now that’s a bigger mystery. The Connecticut and Hastings-On-Hudson populations we’ve previously discovered had railroad tracks right alongside them so the conduit for their northward expansion seemed pretty clear.

hastings-on-hudson-001Just to remind you, here’s a figure showing the Greenwich lizards (magenta dots) and the Hastings lizards (green square) and both are directly on major railroad lines.

The Boston case is less clear cut. Yes, there are lots of railway lines connecting Boston to New York via southern Connecticut, but that’s a long scamper and we haven’t been hearing about sightings in between. It’s entirely possible a lizard hitched a ride on the undercarriage of a train, but for them to then scamper from South Station in Boston to the Fens (walking directions, google doesn’t have an as-the-lizards-run choice) seems like a long shot to me.

I have two more probable ideas, one is that the lizards hitched a ride with someone who grabbed them as potential pets and then released them into the garden when they got tired of feeding them. This is entirely plausible and is the cause of a lot of species introductions all around the world. Another option that I’m excited to test is that the lizards hitched a ride on some compost or mulch that was brought to the Gardens at some point in 2015. Lizard eggs move with plants and mulch all the time, even lucky adults could have made the trip without getting squashed or tumbled. One of my goals for this summer is to track down shipments coming into the garden to see if any might originate from sites with lizards. I’ll be sure to report back!

Another next step is to actually do some genetics work to try to figure out whether this population is related to the other Podarcis already in North America or if it could be a new introduction from the homeland. Those analyses are under way… I’ll report back as soon as we have an answer!

What is clear though is that the Italian Wall Lizard has made itself very comfortable in the Fenway Victory Gardens. Lizards were active all the way into the third week of November! Looking outside though we’ve just had another major snowfall, in amidst a week or two of serious cold snap, so we’ll just have to see if the lizards pop back up in a few months once we hit spring!

As they say down at the railway though, if you see something say something! As always, email me with tips if you see a flash of green in your garden or park!

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There are lizards in Boston!

I was keeping this under wraps while I was publishing the new finding and trying to pitch the story to local journalists. I’m giving a talk to the New England Herp Society this afternoon though so I think it’s time to tell you all about Boston’s newest “Green Monster” – Italian Wall Lizards!

As you may remember, I’ve been chasing Podarcis siculus in Connecticut and New York for a few years now. Upon moving from CT to MA about a year ago I’d resigned myself to having to take the train “all the way back to Connecticut” to see lizards in the wild. That was, until I got this email message:

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Look at that big beautiful male siculus! I was thrilled! After a few back and forth emails I found out that Elizabeth would be going back to her garden plot that afternoon and, as it was sunny and warm I decided to run home, get my gear, and head out there to meet her. Now, as you can see from the email, this was already October and high time for lizards to be hunkering down. I surprised that this one was out and about and I wasn’t sure I’d have many more chances to check out this potentially new population.

So! I ran home, grabbed my camera and telephoto lens (a picture with a confirmed sighting can count as a voucher record if an individual can’t be caught) and grabbed my trusty lizard pole that had caught just about all the lizards from my dissertation. I nearly jogged to the T and was to the gardens just as Elizabeth arrived.

This is when my excitement got the better of me and things started going wrong…

We couldn’t find the male – he’d run off by the time we got to the garden, but looking around in the compost pile next to Elizabeth’s plot I saw a familiar dash and heard the dry-leaf scurry that’s become music to my ears. There were lizards! Many lizards! Lady lizards to go along with that male and, even more exciting, baby lizards! I lined up a great glamour shot of an adult female in the afternoon sun and clicked the shutter. Silence. I’d checked battery levels on the camera before leaving (80% – no problemo!) but I’d left home without a memory card in my camera! (OOF! C’mon Colin!) I was too embarrassed to tell Elizabeth – what a rookie move. So, I knew I had to catch one to confirm the finding!

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(Me, happy to see lizards in Boston but as of yet unsuccessful in the hunt. Note my camera sitting in time-out. Photo credit to Elizabeth.)

Alright, but the female was still there – unperturbed by the lack of picture taking so I lined up, steadied the noose pole… swung… and caught a stick! (internal monologue: “Argh! I caught hundreds of lizards all over Greece… hanging over rock walls and out of car windows… How can I miss the first sighting in Boston?!”).  I collapsed the pole, reset the string, and telescoped it back out for another try. That’s when the pole broke. Seriously. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I managed to separate the final two segments of the pole (18 inches or so) from the remainder, and, here I was, holding two poles, one too short to approach the lizard and the other, incapable of anything more useful than scratching its back.

By this time the lizard had moved on.

I don’t know if I managed to cover this misstep from Elizabeth. In my mind I was sure she was wishing she’d emailed an actual lizard expert. She was unreservedly cheery though as we continued scoping around for more lizards but soon after had to leave for a meeting. I opted to stay and started working on my lizard pole. After a good deal of poking and prodding (and some colorful exhortations) I got piece 1 sufficiently jammed into piece 2 that it was worth giving capture another try. I found that female again, lined up the shot, and…img_4161 caught her!

I didn’t try any more catching that day but in all, saw 7 lizards – a remarkably healthy population!

Next post I’ll tell you about the next visits!