Our Lost Youth

Where Have All the Green Lizards Gone?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (but with lizards)

By John Lomax November 3, 2014 Published in the November 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine


Houstonians of a certain age will no doubt fondly remember spending their childhoods playing with lizards—watching them turn from lime-green to dirt-brown, pulling off their tails, feeding them to the cats, letting them clamp their jaws down on your ears so you can pose for a photo wearing lizard “earrings.” Yes, lizards had that rare ability, it seems, to captivate us for hours, and anyway Minecraft hadn’t been invented. 

But times change, people change, and, yes, lizards change. It seems that the treasured chameleons of our youth—technically known as anoles—are history, or nearly so, having been supplanted by another anolean species. The transition has been stealthy, rather like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with lizards and better acting. Though roughly the same size as their predecessors, these interlopers are always brown. Always. Also, their appearance is a bit more saurian, with stripes and checkerboard skin and a slightly ridged back. More to the point, they are lightning-fast and capable of flea-like vertical jumps. The chances that an 11-year-old will be able to catch one and put it in a coffee can or attach it to a bottle rocket are slim to nil. 

 “They first came over in the late ’70s, early ’80s,” says Brian Chapman, a senior research scientist with the Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies at Sam Houston State, a man whose title is about the same length as your average lizard. He tells us that these natives of Cuba and the Bahamas have been moving steadily north and west since first slithering onto Florida soil. Everywhere they go, Chapman says, brown anoles aggressively drive out their predecessors. Here, for instance, they are not above eating the eggs and spawn of green anoles, a new low in the annals of gentrification. And being native to the area has proved to be of no perceptible advantage for green anoles, who have been cruelly forced to relocate to treetops, the higher branches of hedges, and other lizardian exurbs. (Thankfully, their brown counterparts are not fond of high altitudes.) 

Both species devour flies, crickets, and other pests, Chapman informed us, so this is not the unhappiest possible outcome. Still, that news will come as small consolation to pre-Minecraft Houstonians, whose memories of creatures bobbing up and down in a lizard approximation of push-ups, or with defiant pink throat–inflating displays of lust and power, are fast fading.

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