August 5, 2021
As I stopped among the rocks at the edge of the reservoir last week a small lizard came out to take advantage of the sun that was poking through the clouds. The mostly black lizard was about four inches long and had distinctive white spots on its side and tail along with a white neck collar and a splash of blue under its front legs. It was such a striking animal that I assumed it would be easy to recognize with one of my identification apps. When my phone app failed to identify the species (no, it was not an iguana), I searched through the online guides and images for several hours to no avail. None of the online descriptions or images matched the distinctive patterns of this lizard.
There are thirteen species and subspecies of lizards found in Arkansas with their common names including legless, collared, horned, and fence lizards; skinks; and racerunners. The Western Slender Glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus) is a legless lizard and is often mistaken for a snake. The Eastern Collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) is the most colorful of the Arkansas lizards ranging from blue to green to yellow and has a distinctive black band around its neck. This common species is found in exposed rock outcroppings throughout most of the Interior Highlands of Arkansas. The Skinks are among the most common lizards, and the Southern Prairie Skink (Eumeces septentrionalis) and the Southern Coal Skink (Eumeces anthracinus) look strikingly similar. All six different species of skinks have shiny, smooth scales, and posse tails that easily break when handled.
The lizard I had photographed matched several descriptions, although none had the mottle white neck found on my lizard. What I finally settled on was the Eastern Fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) in the Phrynosomatidae family. The species is said to be found along forest edges, rock piles (where it was), and rotting logs or stumps. Fence lizard bodies are gray to brown in color, but males and females can be distinguished by certain color variations (i.e., black with white spots?). The males have patches of bright blue scales on their bellies and throats. There is where I need to trust my instincts and go with the best guess scenario. Maybe someone will see my blog and confirm or deny my finding.
Thoughts: There are times when I photograph an animal or plant and I know exactly what it is. There are other times when I must do some research (or ask an expert) to make an identification. Then there are times like today where the species is so distinctive, it should be easy to identify, yet I am unable to do so with certainty. The same may be said about life. There are times when we know exactly how we should behave (even if we do not). There are times when we are uncertain and turn to experts or resources to know what to do. Then there are times when we are unsure and follow the best guess we can. The CDC reaction to the pandemic has included all three responses. Just because the guidelines have changed does not mean they have not been based on the best information available. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.