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RAUK - Archived Forum - Lizard feigning dead

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Lizard feigning dead:

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Chris Monk
Senior Member
Joined: 21 Apr 2004
No. of posts: 157


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Posted: 14 Jun 2005

Had this e-mail from the Wildlife Trust this afternoon:-

"Lizard feigning dead

Have you heard of this Chris? Mrs *****, has lizards in her garden and has seen this behaviour recently. Even being able to pick the lizard up and hold it motionless in her hand. I know grass snakes do this (but only when threatened) but why should a lizard do it unthreatened???

She says there are also lizards across the road at Hill Farm Cottage for your records. Definitely lizards, not newtsŗ.she∆s quite sure."

Anyone observed this behaviour in common lizards or have any suggestions?


Chris
Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group
www.derbyshirearg.co.uk
Mick
Member
Joined: 10 Jun 2005
No. of posts: 184


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Posted: 15 Jun 2005
Mmmm.. Presuming we're talking Vivip's here, in my experience of having seen them all over the place i've never before either seen, or heard of them feigning death. Grass snakes,..yes, but common lizards?! They've got legs, & they tend to use them! On several occasions after finally catching & closely inspecting one i've had the cheeky chappie almost immediately just relax on my wrist, or hand & flatten itself out to bask! That's certainly not feigning death, but it's the nearest behaviour i can think of to what this woman's experienced. Even in that basking, relaxed state on the hand, they're still ready to immediately spring back in to action & flee, should they desire. And in captivity, less shy individuals can tame in next to no time to eat out of your hand! But as to feigning death, i think i'd have to see it, to believe it.  
GemmaJF
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Joined: 25 Jan 2003
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Posted: 15 Jun 2005

Chris, without photographic evidence to the contrary, I would put money on this being a newt in the terrestrial stage. Since launching the online-recording page the most common identification mistake has been reporting terrestrial newts as common lizards. (People always think newts will be moist to the touch and found in ponds) (Just out of interest the second most common mistake is identifying grass snakes and slow-worms as smooth snakes for some reason??)

I've observed/handled a lot of vivi lizards and though as Mick has said many of our reptile species will soon settle after brief handling (and slow-worms often sit as if stunned for a few seconds when you lift their refugia), a common lizard is unlikely to openly sit and allow itself to be picked up, I've never seen it.. the only other explanation I can think of if it does turn out to be a lizard it isn't a very well one.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Mick
Member
Joined: 10 Jun 2005
No. of posts: 184


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Posted: 15 Jun 2005
Yeh, with respect, even though the woman reckoned "definately lizards", i'm at least sceptical on this as well. Either a poorly Vivip', or a dry newt! I'm with Gemma on this.
B Lewis
Krag Committee
Joined: 24 Aug 2004
No. of posts: 146


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Posted: 15 Jun 2005

Hi There,

I think I have had a vivip' feigning death on me or least stayed completely motionless.

I was carrying out a survey in Swanscombe in Kent 2002. I wanted to take a picture of the belly colour of the lizard and when I lifted it up it just went limp. I subsequently found a large tub to put it on and it stayed lying on its back for a while whilst I took the picture. Then I picked it up and returned it to where I caught it and as soon as I put my hand to ground level it was off like a rocket.

I don't know if you've seen similar things done with croc's, when turned on their backs and you hold them in place for short while they will often stay in the same place until you disturb them again. I tried it once with a caiman whilst a prepared a rope, it worked. Anyway, similar scenario here me thinks..

Brett.


Lewis Ecology
Brett Lewis Photography
Kent Reptile & Amphibian Group
DICE - University of Kent
GemmaJF
Admin Group
Joined: 25 Jan 2003
No. of posts: 2090


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Posted: 15 Jun 2005

Very interesting observation Brett, Chris any chance of seeing if this lady could provide a photograph of the species she is observing??

I used to do this with frogs and toads as a child after seeing the technique on television, there is a knack to it but you can get them to lay perfectly still on their backs. If anyone is interested you have to hold them lightly with a thumb on their chest and your other fingers supporting their backs then slowly turn them over, with care placing them on a flat surface on their backs they will stay perfectly still until you turn them back over.. of course these days I leave the poor creatures in their upright posture and wouldn't subject them to my experiments , though it didn't seem to do them any harm.

 


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Chris Monk
Senior Member
Joined: 21 Apr 2004
No. of posts: 157


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Posted: 16 Jun 2005

Thanks for suggestions. My first thoughts were that they were most likely to be newts or less likely an ill lizard.

I will try and contact the woman over the weekend and find out more details. I doubt that it was comatose from having been carefully turned over to look at its belly like Brett's one at Swanscombe. Have had plenty of experience of people who are convinced of their identifications (including reports of lizards that were terrestrial newts, a whole pond of swimming lizards (great crested newts) and especially people absolutely convinced that they had seen adders, despite the fact that they were 3ft long and chasing frogs in their garden ponds, or because they had been engineers in Africa and knew what a poisonous snake looked like !).


Chris
Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group
www.derbyshirearg.co.uk
Chris Monk
Senior Member
Joined: 21 Apr 2004
No. of posts: 157


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Posted: 20 Jun 2005

Gemma

Got the contact details from the wildlife trust & spoke to the woman over the weekend. No photo but from her description, the fact that it was found under a plant pot and didn't run away when put down, it was a smooth newt. (The neighbour across the road had told her that there were lizards in the gardens, the ID book she had didn't describe them that well and because she didn't have a pond or know of one nearby they couldn't be newts. She then told me she had frogs & toads in the garden, so obviously there are ponds somewhere in the vicinity)

Still the query produced the interesting info from Brett on a motionless lizard, let alone the method of restraining caimans & crocs.


Chris
Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group
www.derbyshirearg.co.uk
GemmaJF
Admin Group
Joined: 25 Jan 2003
No. of posts: 2090


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Posted: 20 Jun 2005

.. I knew I should have put money on it

Still it all adds to some ideas for improvements to the RAUK ID pages and records submission form over the winter months to address common identification mistakes.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant

- Lizard feigning dead

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