Friday, May 28, 2010

An Interview with Terry VanDeWalle: Part 3

Six-lined racerunner Aspidoscelis sexlineata
Range: Prairie (A. s. viridis): IL, IN, IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, SD, WI; Six-lined (A. s. sexlineatus): IL, IN, MO
Size: 6–10.5 inches
Description: Long, slender lizard with olive to brown back and 6 (six-lined subspecies) or 7 (prairie
subspecies) white, light gray, yellow, or blue stripes that mostly extend to tail. Head and front part of body tinged with blue or green (bright green in prairie racerunner). Tail gray or brown, usually longer than body. Belly gray to pale blue in males and salmon-pink to white in females with 8 rows of large
rectangular scales. Young similar to adult but with light blue tails.
Habitat: Open areas with loose sandy soil such as sand or loess prairies, rocky hillsides, river floodplains
Similar species: Five-lined skink is shiny with belly scales similar to scales on back in size and shape.

What advice would you give to beginning naturalists?
In addition to getting a strong educational foundation at a college or university that specializes in natural sciences, I would say that it is equally important to spend time outside observing and learning to identify the plants and/or animals you are interested in. And you do not have to go very far away to do it. While it might be exciting to travel to far-off places and study exotic plants and animals, many of the great naturalists of the past have not traveled much farther than their own backyard. You can learn a lot by just watching the birds at your backyard feeder or the insects in your garden.  

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly?
Although many non-Iowans do not realize it, we have some wonderful natural areas in Iowa, including our state parks and state preserves. I enjoy the forests and limestone bluffs of northeast Iowa. For seeing the largest variety of reptiles and amphibians, southeast Iowa is the place to visit. The wetlands and Mississippi River backwaters in this part of the state are home to more different species of reptiles and amphibians than any other part of Iowa, which is why the Iowa Department of Natural Resources designated a portion of seven counties in southeast Iowa as an Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area. For many years I have been spending a great deal of time along the Upper Wapsipinicon River in Bremer and Chickasaw counties.

Terry VanDeWalle, Snakes and Lizards in Your Pocket, with photographs by Suzanne L. Collins

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