As such, becoming more familiar with the critters in your backyard just might be the best first step to appreciating your ecosystem. Each organism in your yard has a unique role, and “tuning in” to them will reveal fascinating life-and-death dramas unfolding around you each day.
One example here in the U.S. is the Green Anole. These little lizards (6”-8”/15-20 cm) have huge personalities. The males are very territorial and may be observed traveling along fence rails or basking on walls while flashing their bright red dewlaps to let the world know that is their fencepost. Even though many people do them the indignity not to notice, they can often be seen doing push-ups and bobbing their heads if you get too close. They are trying to make it clear that you are invading their space, seemingly undaunted by the fact that you are twenty thousand times their size.
If a rival male dares approach, an intricate display of posturing and bobbing ensues, with their colors getting ever-darker as each becomes increasingly irate at the gall of the other. If neither backs down, they will engage in an epic miniature battle, sometimes clamped down on each other’s faces for an hour or more, circling and holding on, faces black with rage, the skin on their neck standing up like hackles on a dog, both refusing to give way, each confident that they will vanquish this brazen interloper. Keen naturalists find that the interplay between little critters such as these can be more riveting than many a Hollywood drama!
“I hope it gets, because it deserves, wide attention. It is a must-read for anyone, child or adult, interested in or just curious about herps or nature." —Dr. Brian Crother, Professor of Biological Sciences, Southeastern Louisiana University
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From the other end of the personality spectrum, you almost certainly have small snakes in and amongst the leaves and soil of your yard or garden, such as DeKay’s Brownsnakes or Rough Earthsnakes. Scarcely more than a handspan and about as harmless as an animal can be, these peaceable little snakes can be fun to watch catching a worm. When you don’t have any limbs and your slippery prey is almost as big as you are, struggling to get the best of it can get intense. These adorable serpents will grab onto a plant stem with their tails and play tug of war for as long as it takes to get that juicy worm up out of its hole. The fact that some people kill these little guys is tragic and unnecessary, particularly when it is so easy to learn what they are.
Get to know the toad that lives under your porch or the skink that lives under the flagstones. None of them want to harm you, your pets, or your children. As you learn their ways, you will begin to appreciate an increasing variety of complex interactions going on all around you that you will hopefully want to protect and conserve. An intimate knowledge of nature comes from “little things” such as these, and it is all happening right outside your door!