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BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Bruce D. Taubert

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Good Vibrations
Greater earless lizards are ... well, earless. They hear through the ground, not the air. So, as much as you might want to sneak up on one, you’re not going to be able to.

By Mark Crudup

You might hear them scamper away, but they won't hear you. Greater earless lizards, which have the distinct advantage of lightning speed, have no ear openings. None. Instead, these 1.5- to 3.5-inch reptiles most likely hear ground vibrations, as opposed to air vibrations, like most other living creatures.

Surprisingly, experts say this works to the lizards' advantage, because it allows them to burrow deep beneath the scorching Arizona desert to escape predators and heat without damaging their eardrums. Furthermore, despite their name, they do, in fact, have ears inside their heads, although it's unlikely they hear as well as lizards with outside ear openings.

Like many lizards, greater earless lizards are frequently seen perched on rocks in the deserts of Arizona, California, Texas and Mexico. When they spot a predator, they run with their black-striped tails curled above their bodies, a move also used by their relatives, zebra-tailed lizards. The move helps distract enemies.

All greater earless lizards have a dull yellow color on their backs, with orange spots near their upper bodies. Two black bands paint their bellies. Turquoise underbellies easily distinguish males; the females' underbellies have a salmon tint.

The lifespan of greater earless lizards, which live on insects, including caterpillars, ants, spiders, bees and wasps, tends to be short — most live for only two to two-and-a- half years.

In Arizona, hikers often spot greater earless lizards below the Mogollon Rim, although binoculars are sometimes necessary to see them sitting on the boulders that line the area's wash beds. Walk slowly if you hope to get a close-up view. These lizards will dash off and be gone in less than a second, disappearing almost magically into the sand.

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