Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Lizards Do Push-Ups? And Other Tucson Wildlife Tidbits You Need to Know Before You Die

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Lazlo the skink

It’s all about getting attention. We’re not referring to the reason motorists blast booming music through their cars’ tinny speakers, or why those bored-looking folks toss and twirl furniture sale signs on the corner of Swan and Fort Lowell roads.

We’re talking about why lizards do push-ups. While we can come up with theories that range from absorbing warmth from a tree limb to stretching their legs after a lengthy nap, the real reason lizards to push-ups is simply to get attention.

This is just one of the juicy local wildlife questions that keeps many a Tucsonan awake at night, kicking at the covers and unable to rest, lest we get to the bottom of such sweet mysteries.

It’s the male lizards that engage in the push-up practice, the Discovery Channel explains, for the sole purpose of letting other lizards know a lizard He-Man is on the scene.

And what a He-Man feat these push-ups are. Perched on all fours, the full-body push-ups fully thrust the lizard’s entire frame up and down in quick succession — probably more exercise than some people get in a month.

If the push-up ruse works according to plan, all female lizards within viewing distance will suddenly swoon and have the urge to mate with this push-up pounding He-Man. All other male lizards will steer clear — unless, of course, they are bigger and badder than the push-up lizard king, in which case they’ll beat him up or eat him.

Other Tucson wildlife doesn’t need to do any fancy schmancy exercise moves to get our attention. Most of us have all had our heart stop at least once at the sound of a rattlesnake’s rattle. If we’ve taken our pooches to rattlesnake-avoidance training, our dogs even stop before we do.

The mystery here is not why our heart or our dogs stop when we encounter a rattlesnake — the innate desire to live takes care of the former, while the shock collar took care of the latter. The mystery is how fast a rattlesnake can rattle, one of life’s great inquiries, that is right up there with the question of how much wood a woodchuck could chuck.

While we may never know the answer to the woodchuck question, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum tells us a rattlesnake can rattle its rattle more than 60 times per second. That’s a wow. That’s also much faster than the lizard does his push-ups.

The snake’s rattling speed beats out two other fast-moving desert critters: the lesser long-nose bat. and the hyperactive hummingbird.

While bats do swoop and soar at great velocities, especially when they aim for our bangs, their top flying speed is a scant 14 mph. This would have been impressive, of course, three paragraphs back before we knew about the rattlesnake’s rattling speed. The bat’s mere 14 mph, however, calculates to a scant 0.23 miles per minute, or roughly .004 miles per second.

Big deal. Even Tucson traffic moves faster than that.

Despite their dietary staple of bright red sugar water and their claim to fame as the only bird that can fly backward, hummingbirds also fall short on speed when compared to the rattlesnake’s rattle.

While they, too, can swoop at our foreheads with great velocity, their flight speed is nothing compared to their heart rate. Their little hearts bang around in their chests at the astonishing rate of 1,260 beats per minute.

Although such a heart rate would most likely make a human’s head explode, it only calculates to 21 beats per second. That is still much slower than a rattlesnake’s rattle, yet impressively quicker than the brain-rattling music that booms from a tinny car speaker.
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Ryn Gargulinski, aka Rynski, is a writer, artist, performer and poet. Her radio show airs every Wednesday and her column appears every Friday. See more writing and art from RYNdustries at ryngargulinski.com and rynski.etsy.com.

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