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Ya Just Never Know...

On Pygmy horned lizards and other surprise creatures in Central Oregon

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Well, it's happened again—another mystery: Why are there Pygmy horned lizards in Sun Mountain (where I used to live), between Bend and Sisters, and none in my pal Al St. John's backyard just down the road (where he used to live)?

Could it be he had different ants than I did, and the horned lizards didn't like 'em? Ants are the main source of nutrients for horned lizards, but they won't pass up a tasty spider, grasshopper, ground beetle or other creepy-crawler.

The adult Pygmy horned lizard blends into the landscape. - JIM ANDERSON
  • Jim Anderson
  • The adult Pygmy horned lizard blends into the landscape.

The best showcase for horned lizards in Central Oregon is up on Sand Mountain, just down the road aways from the Hoodoo ski area.

The reason I singled that one out is because it's almost an alpine area, which does not sound like a good place to find what is supposed to be a desert-living creature such as the horned lizard.

But snow or no snow, that's where you can find Pygmy horned lizards in summer, eating ants, lots of them! Obviously, they shut down and go underground as soon as fall and winter arrive.

It's also an area where one can find ants in great numbers. When I got to reading, "The Mountain Ants of Western North America," by William Morton Wheeler, I was astounded to learn how many species of ants live in alpine and sub-arctic habitat.

But to get down to brass tacks, this story is, as most insect stories are for me these days, based on my grandson Daxon's discovery out in the sagebrush of a goodly number of Pygmy horned lizards.

Jane and Graham Anderson looking over a Pygmy horned lizard. - CALEB ANDERSON
  • Caleb Anderson
  • Jane and Graham Anderson looking over a Pygmy horned lizard.

Daxon, his dad Caleb, along with his brother Graham and sister Jane, went on an exploration hike out into the sagebrush and sand wilderness of my then-backyard and came back with the photo included here, all excited about discovering lizards while on their short hike.

And that, dear readers, is what Nature is all about. No matter what you do, or where you go in Central Oregon, there are surprises for you to enjoy, watch out for, and cause one to scratch one's head.

You could, in broad daylight, and completely by accident, just as easy come upon a badger with its young sunning themselves on the piled up diggin's of their home. Should that happen, the best thing to do is come to a stop immediately and give mom, dad and kids the opportunity to dive down their hole and out of sight. Then politely retreat quietly and head off in another direction.

Should you come upon a rattlesnake some nice sunny, but cool morning, then life could become very exciting. If you hear it before you see it, buzzing away—which is why some people call them, "buzz-tails"—stop right there and make sure you know where it is and you can see it.

Once that is known, you'll see the safest direction to retreat. Hey, they were here before we were and deserve respect, if just for that reason. Besides, our rattlesnakes are not as hot-tempered like those of the southwest, so as long as you give them a wide berth, they usually won't bother you.

Or how about if you stumble onto a Jerusalem cricket? You'll know one when you see it because they are such an unusual insect: big fat baby-faced head, about 2 inches long and a boldly striped abdomen. It looks like a holy terror and yes, they can bite. Just leave it be after satisfying your curiosity; it'll run off and hide under the nearest rock.

But whatever encounter you have with wild places and wild things, dear ones, please do it politely with your eye on your great grandchildren. All this beauty we see today, we should be sure will be here for them tomorrow.

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