OK, a lizard is nothing to get excited about. Except when it’s the first lizard I’ve ever seen in Cesar Chavez Park. This one was hugging the hot asphalt up in the northeast corner of the park, in the seasonal Burrowing Owl preserve that is now open to the public. After looking it up on the California Herps website, I guessed that this is a Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis, and this has been confirmed by good authority. A Burrowing Owl would probably find this reptile a tasty snack. But the owls only spend the winter months here, if they visit at all. During the winter months, these lizards hibernate, so that works out very well for the lizard. These lizards are said to be common and unprotected. They do provide a public health service. According to the Wikipedia article,
Studies have shown Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards’ blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme disease. The blood inside the ticks’ gut is therefore cleansed and no longer carries Lyme disease.
A copy of a fascinating 2006 paper by Prof. Robert Lane of Berkeley and his associates, demonstrating the ability of the lizard to neutralize the Lyme disease bacteria, is attached here. I wonder if we could extract or synthesize the substance the lizard uses, it might help people who suffer from Lyme disease infections. Prof. Lane replied to my email containing that question:
I have been asked that same question hundreds of times since 1998, but so far nothing has been published about it in the scientific literature.
The Western Fence Lizard eats spiders, beetles, mosquitoes, various types of grasshoppers, and other insects. A very useful resident of the park!