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The Lizards Project
Regardless of the size of the lizard with which you are working, keep in mind that the animal will not feel secure unless all of its limbs are supported. Small lizards can usually be grasped in one hand, with their forelegs resting on your pointer finger, their body lying across your palm, and their hind feet gently gripping your hand. Calm individuals will usually be content to rest in this position with little or no restraint.
More feisty lizards may require you to use your thumb to apply gentle pressure across the animal’s back. In most cases, you are not even holding the animal. Instead, it is just sitting on your hand. Your thumb may simply be resting on the animal’s back exerting no pressure, but this point of contact is generally enough to keep the lizard still. Turning them over gently on your palm and rubbing their undersides can make some lizards, such as the Eastern Fence Lizard lie still.
Releasing Animals. Release animals where they were caught and where they can quickly find cover. Allow animals to crawl under rocks, logs or coverboards instead of putting the cover pieces on top of the animal, as this could potentially harm the lizard.
Some material in this section was modified from the following sources:
Schall, J.J. Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405 http://www.uvm.edu/~jschall/techniques.html
Animal Care/Pet Care. Many captive-bred reptiles, such as Bearded Dragons, live a long time, so owners need to make a long-term commitment to take care of them and keep them healthy. Captive bred anoles only live a couple of years, so they make good starter pets. Never take a lizard from the wild to keep as a pet and never release a captive-bred lizard into the wild. For information on why this is so important consult the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile brochure called “Don’t Turn it Loose”.
First, learn everything you can about the lizards you are trying to catch by reading about and observing them. Find the most likely places for lizards; these places are usually associated with basking, food supply, or hiding places. Enter the area they frequent in a stealthy manner to get as close as possible.
Lizards will be wary, so use a slow, careful, non-threatening posture and approach. Sudden movements will cause the lizards to seek safety, and it is unlikely you will see them again for some time.
While stalking their prey, lizards move slowly, back and forth as though they were waving in a breeze. If you do this same back and forth motion, in some rare cases you may be able to move right up to them, even touch them with your hand. Keep moving slowly, back and forth, until your hand is positioned where you want it. Then make the grab with a flat hand. This ensures that the lizards are not endangered.
Methods for various lizard locations.
Tree trunks. When a lizard moves to the backside of a tree, memorize where the lizard is and make a flat-handed grab (not too hard) in that spot even if you can’t see him/her.
Under cover. Turn over anything lizards can hide under, boards, boxes, firewood, or other items in cool, moist places in the yard where they can hide undisturbed. Make sure to flip the items away from you as other animals might also be using this cover as a hiding spot. They will scurry away, but they are not too fast if you are ready for them.
Methods for lizard capture
Using your hands. Lizards can be caught by hand, such as anoles or fence lizards on tree trunks or skinks in the leaf litter. Use a quick, flat hand whenever possible to cover the lizard in order to avoid harming your prey. Don’t grab the lizard by its tail because it can detach its tail and get away. Don’t grab the lizard’s head or neck because you might hurt it.
Check out this video:
Using a net. For the faster varieties of lizards like skinks you may want to use a deep net, which you can fashion yourself. This may be a simple bag sewn with cheesecloth or other open weave fabric, stretched onto a stiff wire loop made from a clothes hanger. Make the shape similar to the letter D, so you have a square edge you can place on the ground. The net will allow you to capture the lizard without harming her when she is grabbed. Deeper nets allow you to shake the lizard into the bottom and grab the middle or top of the net under the hanger so it can’t get away.
Trapping. You can construct a simple trap and watch as the lizard enters to catch bait (such as small crickets) or enter out of curiosity if the trap is not baited.
You can also catch lizards (especially skinks) by simply scooping them up with leaf litter into a small plastic trashcan. Sorting through the leaf litter can also yield different terrestrial invertebrates, which can provide material for discussion about food webs and invertebrates’ roles in the environment. You can catch some lizards by cutting an 18” long section of PVC pipe and closing one opening with duct tape (make sure the sticky side does not come in contact with the lizard). Lizards see this as a ‘hole’ and run right in.
Using a Lizard Lasso. Using a lasso (also called a noose) on the end of a bamboo stick is a great strategy for catching lizards with broader heads and thinner necks (such as anoles and fence lizards). Lassos are not very successful with more streamlined lizards (such as skinks). It is very rare for a lizard to be hurt by lassoing.
To ensure students are comfortable using their lizard lassos, students practice using their lassos on plastic lizards scattered throughout the classroom. As the students practice, they are instructed on how to safely remove lizards from the lassos.
The best way to lasso is to work the lasso over at least one of the front limbs before tightening, but sometimes this does not work. Take the animal off the lasso as quickly as possible. If the lizard has spun around, allow it to spin back (or spin the pole) so that the line does not get twisted (taking a lizard off before allowing it to spin back will often ruin a lasso). Take a lizard off by simply pulling on the “handle” which opens the lasso. Having two or three people remove a lassoed lizard is helpful. The lizard can rest on the bamboo pole (one person holds the pole) while another person releases the lasso. The third person can gently but securely hold the lizard as described above.
Video of Lasso Used on Real Lizard:
Check out this video on using a lasso:
How to Make a Lasso:
Video of How To Make a Lizard Lasso:
Making a lasso is easy; all you need to know is how to tie a slipknot. For small lizards, it is recommended to use a 10 or 20 lb. monofilament fishing line.
Several questions can be asked about the lizard lassos. Examples include:
- How does length of the bamboo pole affect the rate of lizard capture?
- How does length of the lasso affect the rate of lizard capture?
Click on the images below to see how to make a lasso.
Students are instructed to collect the following data on each lizard:
Sex: M or F
Total Length (mm)
Snout to Vent (SNV) Length (mm)
Video Identifying Green Anole:
Mark/Recapture Study of Anoles (Anolis carolinesis). Because we work for short-term periods in many of our study sites we do a small number of mark/recapture studies at our short-term sites. We do conduct a mark/recapture study of anoles caught at our Inner Coastal Plain site. After we complete data collection as described above, we mark the anole on its side with a non-toxic permanent marker with a number. We release the anole exactly where it was captured and then as our program progresses we look for these marked anoles each day as well as new anoles. Anoles shed (but do not eat) their skins about every four weeks so marking these lizards this way does minimal harm to the animal while allowing us to look broadly at habitat use and calculate estimated population numbers of green anoles.
Additional Data Collection Possibilities. Fluorescent tracking powder can be used to analyze the terrestrial movements of lizards at night. Simply dip the lizard’s feet in the powder and release it at the point of capture, being careful not to get any of the powder in the lizards’ mouth or eyes. Return in the evening with a black light to follow its path. Identifying where the lizard was first spotted and measuring how far up the tree or from a bush the lizard was can provide further data for analysis.
Making observations of lizard behavior in a science notebook enhances students’ observation skills. Examples of observational data students can collect include:
- Observing lizards’ time and positions in the sun
- Measuring, describing, collecting GPS coordinates, and photographing areas associated with lizard activity
- Describing, drawing, and/or photographing lizards’ sunning sites (can also measure distance from cover (ex. Tree, bush, leaf litter) or distance up tree for arboral
- Mating or territorial display behaviors
- Observing and recording insects in lizard activity area
The following questions are suggestions for students to associate with lizard data:
- Is there a relationship between SVL and mass?
- Does time and position in the sun aid in themoregulation?
- Do larger lizards sun longer than smaller ones?
- Do different species sun for different times?
- Are there differences in the areas of activity for different species lizards?
- Are there differences in the insects associated with each lizard activity site?
Through use of the free Herp Project android application (available for FREE download, see below!), HRE participants record data and upload it to an open source database found on the Herp Project website. This enables us to compare our data with previous years, and we can download data sets for further analysis. We also report our data to the Carolina Herp Atlas, a citizen science database initiated to document the distributions of amphibians and reptiles across North and South Carolina.