He’s an eastern water dragon, and he’s not actually “my” lizard and she wasn’t technically his “wife”, but that title sounded better than “My reptilian friend’s primary mating partner is dead”.
He lives on our deck and soaks in our bird bath and battles with his reflection in our glass doors. We call him Lizzie but various neighbours have given him more imaginative monikers such as Ron, Lucy and Stumpy (before his tail grew back).
Sometimes he eats fruit and vegetables. I had to give up trying to grow tomatoes because he always ate them just as they were getting ripe. Occasionally I offer him a scrap from my salad, but his favourite dish by far is fresh cockroach. Apple cores he can take or leave, but he’ll never say no to a cockroach. Although he prefers them alive, even dead ones are irresistable to Lizzie. Each to their own. Unfortunately he’s not as quick as he used to be, so he’s not always successful at catching them himself. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s one of the biggest water dragons I’ve seen. He’s been with us for nine years now, or to be more accurate, since he was here first, we’ve been with him for nine years.
Most of his time is spent on or under the couch on our deck, and when I lie on this couch (far too frequently), he scampers across my legs as if I don’t exist. The first time he did this I was so jet-lagged I couldn’t move, which was lucky for both of us, because on another day I could have reacted far more noisily. Sometimes he lingers there for a few minutes, and once he licked my knee. I was surprised to discover that his stomach is not cold or scaley and in fact feels pretty much like human skin. His little tongue is bright pink and also somewhat disturbingly human.
Poor Lizzie is prone to getting ticks around his face, and if he’s in the right mood he’ll let me pull them off. He definitely has different moods. Some days he seeks human company, some days he prefers the company of dragons and on others he just wants to be left alone. Mostly he lazes around on the couch, in the water or under the sun, but he can become feisty at times, fiercely fighting his reflection for hours or exploring the neighbourhood for new adventures.
In the past he had a harem of three female dragons, but lately he’s been particularly close to the one we call Lady Lizzie (I know. We should put more effort into naming our cold-blooded housemates.) Besides copulating regularly, they slept together under our couch and spent many hours of the day doing nothing together on top of our couch. I have witnessed several of Lizzie’s mating encounters and they’re usually pretty violent and rapey, but it seemed to be more consensual with her.
I know what you’re thinking. She’s anthropomorphising, and also spending too much time watching lizard sex. You’re probably right, but it broke my heart when I saw her lifeless body on the road in front of our house. It is very unfortunate for lizards that they love to soak up the heat of the bitumen at the end of the day. Usually they are quick enough to get out of the way of the slow-moving cars in our street, but for some reason it appears Lady Lizzie didn’t make it on this occaision. By the time I saw her in the morning, a crow was extracting her organs through her cloaca, which is a sight I seriously wish I could erase from my mind.
Lizzie was on the couch as usual and it took a few hours before he discovered the gruesome corpse of his girlfriend. I saw him sitting close to her for about twenty minutes and then he moved to stand almost on top of her. He bent his head, and for a moment I thought he might eat her but instead he stuck out his little pink tongue and licked her once, just like he had done on my leg that time. It wasn’t even a lick: more of a delicate tap with the pointy tip of his tongue. Eventually he came back to the couch and watched the crow return to continue its meal.
What did that lick mean? Of course I don’t know, but my guess is it’s a method of sensing the situation, similar to the way babies put things in their mouths. I wonder how much he understands about death and I wonder if he’ll be lonely? I’m pretty sure he will be lonely. His harem has all gone now.
I tried to research about the life and behaviour of eastern water dragons online and I was astonished at how little I could find and also how much of what I read contrasted significantly with my own observations. Most of the information comes from reptiles in captivity but wild animals can behave very differently. Considering the vast amount of data on the internet about almost everything, it is remarkable how little we understand about these lizards or many other living beings. It demonstrates the lack of interest shown by modern society in the natural world. Few people know or care about most animals, unless they have a direct impact on humans. How much indigenous knowledge has been lost because it has been decided that Homo sapiens are the only species which matter?
As much as I feel privileged to live so closely with these charismatic creatures, it distresses me that this proximity puts them in constant danger. We have so much to learn about our world and how to live in it without causing its destruction. Eastern water dragons have survived in Australia for at least 20 million years. When wild animals adapt to our presence and choose to live amongst us, we should treasure it for the rare gift it is.