Glass Lizard (Photo by Jason Andre)
Sometimes, District staff gets lucky when out in the field and comes upon some special creatures, and such was the case earlier this week.
How lucky? Very, considering it's being described as potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Enter the western slender glass lizard and a baby eastern hognose snake that were lurking among the 1,200-acre Kankakee Sands preservation system while restoration work was being done to remove invasive plants.
"(These are) some species that many people in this field see only once or twice in their careers," said Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, the Forest Preserve's natural resource land manager. "So it's pretty amazing for our seasonal staff to find them both on the same day."
These two creatures are elusive, with a restricted habitat. Glass lizards are particularly skittish, further decreasing the chances of encountering one.
"Both (species) have been found before by staff in the Sands region, but only a few times," Armstrong said.
According to the Illinois Natural History Survey, the glass lizard is not listed as threatened in Illinois, but "it's seldom encountered."
They're fairly unique, as you'd guess from the name.
From The Nature Conservancy:
"As a defense mechanism against attack, glass lizards will shed their tails. The breakage occurs along fracture planes, which allow the tail to splinter into multiple pieces. Their tails will grow back, but they will not be as long, and tend to grow back darker in color. Most glass lizards you may have the luck of encountering, will probably have already lost part of their tail."
This one appeared to have a full tail. That's no small feat, considering how stiff and brittle their bodies are due to the bony deposits that form plates under their skin.
While it's often confused for a snake — and can be hard to identify at a distance — the glass lizard has some key differences. For example, it has moveable eyelids and external ear openings and, unlike a snake, cannot unhinge its jaws. As a result, it has to go for smaller prey, such as small vertebrates, spiders, beetles and crickets.
The baby eastern hognose snake also was an impressive find, considering its size. Unlike the skittish glass lizard, this creature has been described as "clumsy and slow."
Baby eastern hognose snake (Photo by Jason Andre)
Its preferred prey is toads, but also will feast on frogs, salamanders, small mammals and birds.
Perhaps most notable about this snake is how it reacts when it feels threatened. It starts by puffing out and flattening the skin around its neck to resemble a cobra, then it will lunge at the perceived threat. Its intent clearly is not to attack, considering it'll do all of this with its mouth closed.
If that doesn't work, it'll do the next logical thing: Play dead for several minutes until it feels the coast is clear and safe to resume normal activities.
What's the coolest animal you've come across in the preserves? Tweet at us (@WillCoForests) and use #wildlife.