Sep 20 2010

Desert Camouflage

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I continue to be amazed at nature’s ability to conceal. I nearly squashed this lizard when hiking last week at Smelter Wash. The only reason I saw him was the bright yellow on his back.

This male Greater Earless Lizard, a common Arizona lizard, seemed to be “playing dead” when I first came upon him. He shot up out of the dirt when I nudged him gently with my foot. Click to enlarge.

As it turns out, this lizard was partaking in typical lizard behavior: sand-basking – warming up the top of his body as the morning sun heated up the sand, and cooling his underside in the wash. (Thanks go to amateur herpetologist Bryan Hughes for the lizard I.D. and lizard behavior insight).

Despite not knowing what kind of lizard this was at the time – or if he was a biter – my hiking partner, Kathy, felt the urge to scoop him up into her hand. What can I say?  She can’t resist horned lizards, frogs, toads.  This guy, with his turquoise belly, didn’t like being handled and jumped back down to the dirt. And fortunately, he didn’t bite!

Even though they blend in with their surroundings, some greater earless lizards sport even more vibrant colors – looking like walking bags of Skittles candies.

For Writers: The topic of camouflage can teach a few things about realistic, gripping dialogue. In Writing Fiction, authors Janet Burroway & Elizabeth and Ned Stuckey-French say, “Dialogue can fall flat if characters define their feelings too precisely and honestly, because the purpose of human exchange is to conceal as well as to reveal – to impress, hurt, protect, seduce, or reject.”

Sometimes the things that aren’t said or aren’t seen by the reader– those that are hidden/camouflaged – can create the most tension in a conversation. When readers must read between the lines, they’re often more engaged. And this same behavior is commonplace in everyday conversations.

As Burroway and Stuckey-French remind us: “When an unspoken subject remains unspoken, tension continues to build in a story.”

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