Leapin’ lizards, we’re done!

Update from the field: we’re done! I can now say that my first foray into field ecology was a success, and I earned rave reviews from the boss on my lizard-catching and lizard-spotting abilities.

Also: fieldwork is hard. I tease Colin all the time about his plush job, in which he kayaks to deserted islands in the Mediterranean, stays in an ancient Venetian castle, and catches lizards from about 9-4:00, leaving plenty of time for an aperitif and fresh seafood dinner back at home base. I’m definitely not going to stop teasing him about that – I’m pretty sure teasing is part of our marriage contract – but I will publicly acknowledge that his job is not quite as cushy as it seems. On a typical day, we would leave around 8:00 and get to whichever little island we were surveying that day around 9:00. We’d walk around in the hot sun catching lizards until 3:00 or 4:00, then paddle home with dozens of lizards in tow and drive back to the hotel to start measuring, which is a long process that can last well into the night depending on how many we caught. (The goal is to measure quickly so we can release them ASAP. The most we caught on a single day was 96. The most we managed to measure in a single evening was about 60, and that required an ocean’s worth of caffeine.) Because the boss liked me, he’d usually give me an hour off to shower and relax while the hardcore scientists powered through with data collection. I’m pretty sure that time off is in our marriage contract, too.

(As always, you can check out Colin’s blog for the science-y details on what we were doing and why.)

But, hard work aside, I loved my stint as a field researcher! I loved being active and outdoors all day, and it was incredible to look up from the dirty, dusty work of hunting lizards and see the crystal-clear Aegean all around. The little lizards are pretty sweet, too.

And because I know you’re going to ask: how does one catch a lizard?

There are three ways. The most hardcore is to catch them by hand. This requires speed, agility, and careful aim and is generally the hallmark of the experts. I only caught a few this way, but each one was cause for celebration.

The second, more elegant way is to lasso them with a slipknot on the end of a fishing pole. This requires stealth and steady hands but doesn’t necessitate diving over rocks and traipsing through prickly vegetation.

The third way – the beginner method – is most entertaining. This involves tying a mealworm to the end of the fishing pole, dangling it in front of a lizard, and waiting for them to leap up and grab it. Lizards aren’t the brightest creatures out there, so when they find themselves suddenly airborne, their instinct is to just hold on. And to keep holding on, basically forever, until you deposit them in your hand or a bucket or whatever. Colin initially taught me to catch lizards this way – way back in 2013 – but he doesn’t generally bring mealworms into the field.

So what’s next? Well, today is hot so I think we’re going to find a beach and go for a swim. Then we’ve got a ton of data to enter, which is the unglamorous side of fieldwork but can be done with a beer so that’s nice. And then on Monday we head back to Naxos for another day or two of catching “big island” lizards to compare to the “little island” lizards we just got, plus more gyros and kalamari and beer and swimming. You know, just another day in the field.


The non-fieldwork part of fieldwork: exploring ancient castles by the sea.

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