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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Italian Wall Lizards in Connecticut!

Exciting news! There’s a new lizard species making its way into New England. It is called Podarcis sicula (the Italian Wall Lizard), and it’s officially in Greenwich CT, just over the New York state border. I’ve been down to visit the area half a dozen times now looking to see where the lizards are and in what number. Now that the official description is published, I want to fill you in on some of the back story.

It all started with this Facebook post just before I was coming back from Greece last summer:
Podarcis_DEEP_facebook_COMMENTS_screenshotI’ve blotted out names for privacy’s sake, but as you can see, the landowner was spot on! This is a (very) pregnant female Italian wall lizard. He even gave some really plausible suggestions for how it got there – by tracks or by truck.

I couldn’t believe that after months of studying this little gal’s cousins in Greece (Podarcis erhardii is very closely related to sicula – See how similar they look), there was a population living just over an hour down the road from home base. As soon as I got back, Max and I went down to see who we could find. As we were early for a meeting with this homeowner, we went looking for nearby rock walls (my go-to). Our searching was haphazard and unsuccessful until we found ourselves near a pet store – excellent sources for information on pet lizards that might have gotten out, or reports of nearby reptiles that seem out of the ordinary.

To our amazing good fortune the highschooler working the reptile section had actually seen some of these little lizards in Greenwich! They were living behind his girlfriend’s house just down the road. He very kindly gave us her address and, (much to her father’s surprise) we showed up on their doorstep just a few minutes later asking about lizards.

We were in the right spot. This landowner showed us a picture his son had snapped of the species just a couple weeks earlier. We didn’t find any lizards there, then, but wandering next door we got our first glimpse. It was official, they were in CT.

Our next stop was the house of the original poster on Facebook. His yard has a really strong population of males, females, juveniles and adults. We were able to snap a few more pictures:

IMG_9875 IMG_9890 IMG_9876And even catch a couple:

IMG_9826What’s the connection between these properties? The Metro North Railroad running right through the backyards.

Train tracksRight now our working theory is that the lizards are hopping on the tracks and working their way north from large, known populations in NY. I’ll talk more about that though as we get more info this summer.

I’m adding a new page to the header just for the Lizards in Connecticut project. I’ll be updating that with maps and any new information as we get it (we currently have DNA out to a lab for analysis… exciting!) Stay tuned by subscribing above or following along on twitter (@colindonihue)

Colin