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The Art and Technique of Surviving: Animals' longevity gets hand from evolution 

Sagebrush lizard in hiding. "It's right there... right under that sagebrush," I whispered to my friend. "See it?" I don't know why I was whispering;

click to enlarge Sagebrush lizard in hiding.
  • Sagebrush lizard in hiding.
Sagebrush lizard in hiding. "It's right there... right under that sagebrush," I whispered to my friend. "See it?" I don't know why I was whispering; that beautiful sagebrush lizard I was pointing at couldn't hear me if it wanted to.

There is nothing more exasperating - or exhilarating - than trying to show someone a sagebrush lizard when said lizard does not want to be seen, as in the photo above.

Just about everything in Nature has some degree of camouflage going for it, either to hide it from predators, or to warn these attackers: "Hey! Lay off! I don't taste good, if you eat me I'll make you sick," like Lady Beetles and Monarch butterflies. Or just the opposite, such as Viceroy butterflies that in reality are delicious eating (ask any flycatcher), but mimic Monarchs for protection.

Survival means the animal or plant will live on to propagate their kind - and that, Oh, Best Beloved - is what Nature is all about: Survival of the Species. There is also another part of that we should keep in mind, in Nature there is no "Good" or "Bad," it just "is."

In Mother Nature's book, only things that work toward survival are passed along. The Theory of Evolution is not a "theory" at all, it's an undeniable "fact." Man has, in the many millions of years he has been here on this grand old planet Earth, proved it over and over again by our presence and our pets.

Evolution is nothing more than "change," and man has been in the changing business for a long time. We have changed behavior and looks of wild animals and plants to our benefit - everything from potatoes, carrots and onions to mice and livestock, all to further a trait that is advantageous to our survival.

Sagebrush lizards are driven to succeed by the same forces. The lizard that blends in with its environment is less likely to be eaten-or caught by a child and taken home for a "pet," and there to die. It lives on to lay eggs with genes that may have that same pattern that helped its parent to survive, etc., etc.

The vivid blue pattern on the male Fence Post lizard works to warn other males that, "This is my rock, and by the Powers of Mud, you keep out of here!" But, he can hide that blue just as quick, that way, those genes that have helped that lizard and his ancestors find the best habitat, food, mates - and escape marauding kestrels, a raptor that thrives on lizards -- live on.

It's a beautiful system. That's why I often smile when I miss a sagebrush lizard sighting after it has done that dash-off-and-stop-quick-and-hide escape sequence. Even if caught out in the open it works. I have seen those sneaky little guys spurt a few inches, stop, and become invisible.

I was reminded of another facet of Nature's way of distracting threats by a magnificent male Western Tanager the other day. I was on Pine Mountain preparing to hike up a side hill to inspect a golden eagle nest when I suddenly had a male tanager, literally, right in my face. (And, dumb me, I didn't have my camera!)

His sole job was to keep mom safe in their nest as she cared for the next generation of tanagers. To do that, he had to come out and distract me with his bold red head, yellow body and black-and-white wings. It really worked too; I didn't even give a thought to mom sitting on her nest until I got back in my rig.

Several years ago, Lori Turner, who was then the biologist for the Sisters Ranger District, provided me with my first look at a Townsend Solitaire nest. I had been looking for that bird's nest for over 40 years and could not locate one. When Lori led me to the site she said, "Be careful, you may step on it before you see it."

She was absolutely right. Even with her pointing at it nestled up against a burned out log, it took several minutes before the pieces of burned bark and charred wood turned into nestling solitaires.

That same process works for you and me. We have our magnificent brain that reasons things out; we (should) know "right from wrong." And if we are to survive - we must understand and obey this irrevocable law of Nature: Be considerate of our planet's air, soil and water, screw 'em up and we all die.


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