The Bay Island Lizard: My Work Companions

A cottage built in Karen style architecture at ANET field station in the Andamans.

A cottage built in Karen style architecture at ANET field station in the Andamans.

I sleep in a comfortable machan style cottage, with a tin roof overhead and wooden chatai windows and walls that open on all sides. A dozen or so areca nut trees, a few bamboo groves and various native trees surround my cottage, giving me an excellent opportunity to observe my surroundings without any obstruction. Though most nearby areas have been converted to agricultural land, the Andaman Nicobar Environmental Team’s (ANET) field station and a few nearby areas still hold some forests. The local snakes, lizards and birds are a permanent feature of any field station. And amongst them, the short-tailed island lizards, belonging to the genus Coryphophylax, are my daily work companions.

The island lizards as my dialy work comapnions

The island lizards as my daily work companions

Every day, three to five lizards visit my cottage and give me company as my work progresses. Sometimes I see them staring at an infinite infinity

My ‘herpetologist’ friends explain that they are diurnal and floor dwelling, which means that they spend their days on the ground or on tree trunks, and nights on leaves or branches, sleeping. Chasing each other is primarily to defend territory or attract a mate. Granted that the purpose of chasing is to attract females, or defending territories, what is the purpose of many quick neck movements, and why do they sit for hours doing nothing but staring at me?

Bay island lizard perching on the leaf.

Bay island lizard perching on the leaf.

In my opinion, no comprehensive explanation is possible. And even though I make inferences of why they are doing what they are doing, I guess only the individual lizards know what is going on inside their heads. After all, with the vast and varied differences in sense perceptions and emotive expressions that exist between ourselves, and the bewildering diversity of the rest of the living world, what we derive is just a possible explanation of any act.

When I chat with my learned friends, I am awestruck by what they infer from every move the lizards make. They use complex words to explain simple behaviour. One circumstance that needlessly complicates the observation of animals is the assumption that every significant action of an animal must have a purpose. I am quite sure, that like us, animals also indulge in a range of moves and activities without having any set purpose.

Bay island lizard

Bay island lizard

For me, the lizards visiting my cottage is the purest form of pleasure, and I’m glad that I am able to observe them and enjoy their company without trying to discover meaning and purpose in every move that they make. My very separateness from these lizards enriches me and allows us to work better under the same roof.

After all what else do you need from a work companion?

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Edited version first published @ http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/features/10184-the-bay-island-lizard-my-work-companions

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About Vardhan Patankar

I pursue reef and marine mammal related research with a critical eye and a fine-tuned appreciation for weirdness. I am particularly fascinated by marine life that exists within coral reefs, but observes life outside the reefs with just as much wonder and amazement.
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