Living plants, abundant water, dead vegetation, bugs, stones, sticks, and all manner of nooks and crannies — all these make our gardens the perfect habitat for visits from local critters! The list of potential garden visitors in the Valley is a long one. I would love to hear the stories of your visitors; here are a couple of mine.
Gecko — These funny, squishy-looking little lizards are fairly common in our desert communities, which comes as a surprise to some people. My little gecko visitor was living in a big metal garden container that held a large potted fern. I discovered him when he wiggled out as I lifted the pot up in order to plant the fern in the ground. His location in between pot and container was the perfect narrow nook for this little guy, who appeared to be just a young ’un. The tight space was just right for hiding during the heat of the day. He could stay cool and catch himself a feast of the small bugs coming in search of water.
Geckos are generally nocturnal. Many residents in the Valley will see them lurking on the wall near their porch light at night. They are excellent bug catchers, and the best place to catch bugs at night is, of course, around a porch light. Geckos can look a little eerie there, with the light shining through their rubbery, partially-transparent bodies. A friend of mine was spooked when one of them dropped onto her shoulder as she was unlocking her front door. It took a week or two of using her back door before she made friends with her gecko and grew to appreciate the way his appetite keeps the bug population to a minimum at her porch light.
Unlike the Geico gecko, which is green with a white tummy (and can quickly be identified as a native Aussie by his accent), geckos in the Valley are most likely to be the Desert Banded variety. They are generally 3 to 5 inches long, with spotted heads and dark-and-light bands running around their bodies all the way down to the tips of their tails. They don’t crawl along straight like other small lizards in the Valley. Instead, they wriggle rapidly with no warning, which can make you jump in surprise, since they often blend in with their environment when still. This type of gecko is not poisonous or aggressive and will seldom bite; but I am still thankful that our harmless local geckos do not grow to a foot long, as some geckos do.
So if you find a gecko in your garden, please leave him be. You will find his presence a helpful and interesting addition to your garden — even if a bit wiggly.
Another local lizard that may be drawn to our gardens is quite a bit larger than the gecko. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure what they are. They may be the Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard or the Southwest Alligator Lizard. However, whereas those two varieties are listed as 6 to 8 inches long, the big lizards that climbed the tree next to my garden were easily a good foot long. They are greyish and brownish and rather spiny.
Perhaps a herpetologist is reading this column and knows exactly what they are. But since I’m not sure, I shall call them the Everywhere Lizards because they reminded me of the children’s book, “The Everywhere Cat,” that I read to my daughters when they were little. This spring it did seem like I saw these big lizards everywhere. They were in the parking lot behind my house, skittering around near my Outback potted plants. They were on my enclosed back patio, digging around clumsily amongst my baskets of pine cones, knocking them hither and yon, and then slipping out under my gate. They were in my front garden, zipping out from under my garden chair and between my feet. They roamed up and down the sidewalk by the courtyard and spent a good hour sunning themselves on the rough bark of a tree trunk. They were active and curious and not terribly shy. But they were a spring phenomenon; since the weather got warm, they are nowhere to be found. I do hope they are just hiding. I’d hate to think that they became dinner for the family of five black hawks patrolling the neighborhood, or the big fat owl who lives down the street ... but that’s another column.
I hope all my fellow gardeners get a chance this week to relax in their gardens and watch the various critters at play there. We will take a look at more of these creatures in future columns. It’s a veritable zoo.
Margaret Francis lives in Sun City.