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Got the Herp

Happy Friday!! Today I went to the Houston Zoo and spent about 3 hours in the Reptile House as part of my research for Spitfire.  Special thanks to keepers Monty and Greg who were gracious enough to answer questions and make suggestions.  They were happy to humor me, even if they were a bit bemused at the idea of dragon people.

I have lots of pictures so I'll just post those and talk about what I particularly liked from each of these animals.  I went to get some questions answered but also to watch some behavior and get ideas for possible physical attributes to include.  Please forgive the pictures, I like my camera because it fits in my purse, not because it makes me an amazing photographer.  Also I refrained from using flash so I didn't freak out the animals.  And I have shaky hands.  And these are through glass.  Anyway, consider yourself warned.

Ricord's Anole - I liked this one for the white around the eye, highlights the eye

Boelen's Python - The glass is foggy because it's humidity controlled, but the python is black on the dorsal side (back) and light green on the ventral side (belly).  This sort of coloration would be excellent in the forest, avoiding predators from above and below.

Malayan Gharial - This one was over on the other side of its pond, then got interested in me while I was taking pictures next to its enclosure and swam over.  It's pretty wicked looking, but Monty said that crocodilians actually have different shaped mouths based on their food source.  These eat primarily fish, while an alligator that preys on turtles has a much wider set of jaws.

Malayan Gharial - side view, it's about five feet long

Lace Monitor - I was able to watch this one eat, and she was one of the most active of the reptiles in the house.  She is a carnivorous scavenger, probably about 35 lb and all muscle.  When she saw she was going to get to eat, she looked like she was almost more interested in Monty than the egg he was trying to give her.  According to both keepers, she only exhibits this behavior at feeding time and is normally docile.  Monitors are very smart and can be color trained, clicker trained, and target trained.

Prehensile Tailed Skink - These lizards actually give live birth and remain in a little bit of a family unit.  This one was alone in its enclosure, which is probably why there is salad stuck to its face.  There was no one else there to tell it :( (Or secretly laugh and not tell it, depending on your family.)

Prehensile Tailed Skink - full view

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake 

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - Close up of the scale pattern.  I really liked how the scales were shaped.  It almost looks like the snake rolled in oatmeal that someone then painted.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - It kept opening its mouth, but it wasn't making a display or acting like it was going to strike.  It was almost like it was yawning.  In the shadow directly under the rattlesnake you might be able to spot the head of the Everglades Rat Snake hiding under the ledge.

Anegada Island Iguana - These were probably in the 45-50 lb range and also pretty active.  The male is apparently a little more aggressive than the female likes.  However, Greg says these are also docile with handlers and very intelligent.  They shed their skin about monthly, depending on how fast they are growing, but it doesn't come off in one nice piece like a snakeskin, rather, it flakes off in pieces.

Anegada Island Iguana - Since these were so active it was difficult for me to get a decent photo so I was standing in front of their window taking pictures for a long time.  One of them climbed up on this branch right by the glass and started bucking its head, which is apparently the signal for "leave me alone."  I took the hint and moved on.

Collared Lizard & San Esteban Chuckwalla - The two smaller lizards (about 12" from nose to end of tail) are the Collared and the larger is the Chuckwalla.  There were two Chuckwallas and three Collards in this enclosure, and the Chuckwallas were totally unfazed by the Collard lizards climbing all over them.  One of the Collards even butted one of the Chuckwalla's tail out of a particularly warm spot, and the Chuckwalla didn't even blink.

Collared Lizard & San Esteban Chuckwalla - The Collared lizard in the center is male, while the one on the right is female.  There were two females in the enclosure, and the male was beside himself trying to impress them to get one of them to accept him as a mate.  He would make a mating display that looked like push-ups to try and get their attention.  Monty says that the two females won't even give him the time of day and the poor male is getting very sexually frustrated.

Cuban Knight Anole - Very striking color pattern

Panther Chameleon - The coolness of chameleons is pretty common knowledge, but I think the neatest thing about them is their feet.  Rather than having individual toes, their "thumb" and first toe are fused into a single digit, and the other three toes are fused into a second digit.  Basically, it looks like they're wearing mittens on all their feet.  My husband insists this is because they spend all their time building snowmen.  

Spiny-Tailed Lizard - about 8" long, I thought their tails were neat

Spiny-Tailed Lizard - close up of tail

African Plated Lizard - Their scale pattern does look like they are covered in tiny ring "plates".

Caiman Lizard - These are about two feet long and very aquatic.  You can't see in this picture, but the bottom half of the tank was filled with water where one of them was swimming.

Mexican Beaded Lizard - Love the skin texture (sorry blurry)

Chinese Crocodile Lizard - These were beautifully colored

Chinese Crocodile Lizard - You can see where the name came from on the back half of the lizard.

Chinese Crocodile Lizard - You may not be able to tell because of the size of this photo, but this lizard has a round pupil and you can see sclera (the white part of the eyeball) on the outside of the iris.  This is fascinating.  Primates are one of the few animals who normally display the sclera of their eyes.  Evolutionary theorists postulate that this came about as a method of non-verbal communication.  Its much easier to tell what a primate is looking at because the sclera of their eyes allows you to know where their gaze is directed.  I don't know why this lizard has it, but it's pretty cool.

Rhino Viper - NOSE HORNS!!

Komodo Dragon - This is Smaug (really).  He weighs in at about 250 lb, although Monty says that in the wild they average 175-180 lb at his age.  That's my purse, notebook, and umbrella on the lefthand side, and then that's the giant lizard twice the size of me on the righthand side.

Komodo Dragon - Some authors use the phrase "reptile gaze" or a variant to describe a cold, calculating gaze, usually from a villain.  After spending time with the reptiles today, I think this is unfairly attributed.  Reptiles don't use the muscles on their face for communication like humans do.  The heavy, angled brow that many of them possess is there because that's how their face is shaped.  It doesn't move.  And some reptiles that are seriously bad news (like the Black Mamba) have a smooth brow and the glassy stare of a beanie baby.  

Komodo Dragon - I kept waiting to hear Benedict Cumberbatch's voice come out of his mouth.  

P.S. - I forgot to mention last week that I roughed out my plot for Spitfire with help from the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast by K. M. Weiland.  Particularly helpful were her episodes on positive, negative, and flat character arcs.  (Check out other podcasts I'm a fan of here.)


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