About three days before my son, Caleb, turned (who is now grown with a son of his own) 16, we were zipping along Highway 26 between Sisters and Redmond, preparing him for his check ride with the Motor Vehicle Driving Examiner. As we passed the Cline Falls Airport I spotted two young boys standing next to a sign, "Lizards and skinks for sale."
"Whoa! Caleb!" I said. "We have to go back."
"Why, Dad?" He asked. (He was asking "Why?" about everything! Now his son asks the same questions. Love it!)
"Because there are some kids back there selling lizards and skinks. That's why!"
Pulling up to the lizard sales booth, two young men about 12 years old watched us eagerly with the sense of a big sale written all over their faces.
"Right here, mister," he said, rolling back the cover over the aquarium he was using for a holding pen. With the aplomb of a pro, he lifted a small board and picked up a beautiful skink.
"Isn't that a beauty?" He asked, holding the skink so I could see it.
"Sure is," I said, looking it over carefully. "Got any more you want to sell?"
"Sure!" Came the eager reply and the supersalesman big grin as he reached into the holding pen and uncovered about ten more skinks - some with blue tails, some without.
"How come those skinks don't have blue tails?" I asked, pointing.
"Because they're adults," the keen-eyed salesman instantly replied.
"What kind of skink is that?" I asked, pointing to a light gray lizard with stripes on its back.
"That's not a skink, it's a blue-belly," he answered, handing it to me.
"No, it's not." I replied, holding it so he could see it better. "That's a Sagebrush Lizard," I said, holding it up so he could see it in better detail.
"Then these must be blue-bellies," he said, pointing to a group of about ten lizards with a darker body and bright blue throats and bellies.
"Better known as Western Fence Lizards," I said, picking one up. "And it's a male," I added, showing him the characteristics that separate males from female fence lizards.
Then looking at both boys with an amicable, but admonishing look, I said, "If you're going to sell lizards you really should at least know who is who - and - understand Oregon's Wildlife Laws. It's against the law to sell our native wildlife, which includes lizards and skinks."
That did it. The look of anticipated sales was replaced by apprehension and alarm.
"Uh, oh," they both said, and began to pack up their lizards, sign and card table.
"Wait a minute," I urged, "Why don't you have any pygmy horned lizards in your collection?"
"I don't know." The CEO replied. "I've never seen one."
It was my turn to be surprised. I couldn't believe that those two sharp-eyed collectors searching all that rimrock, sagebrush, rabbit brush and sand hadn't spotted at least one tiny horned lizard. We then went on to discuss the attributes of the smallest horned lizard in the western US:
The Pygmy [or] Short Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma douglassi, is the smallest and most widely distributed horned lizard living anywhere in the United States, found throughout the Great Basin and both sides of the Rocky Mountains. In Oregon, it's common from the summit of the Cascades to the sagebrush country of the High Desert.
They'll eat just about anything smaller than themselves, which includes ants, beetles, spiders, land snails, butterflies, caterpillars and even newly hatched snakes.
Female pygmy horned lizards will lay an average of 17 eggs in summer, however at other times they are live-bearers. A female captured near Jack Lake, in Jefferson County area of the Cascades, gave birth to 7 young.
Then we discussed the possibility of conducting population and natural history studies of the lizards and skinks around the boy's home, and how it would be better to understand the ecology and natural history of lizards, then to sell them.
His answer? "You bet!"
Not to long after our meeting, the boys moved, but I hope they stuck with their curiosity and business sense, especially all through high school. If they did, they would have acquired enough knowledge and science to be eligible for a 4-year scholarship to college.
Life doesn't get much better than that!