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Hard-to-catch Italian wall lizard here to stay

This Italian wall lizard was seen scooting around

This Italian wall lizard was seen scooting around Massapequa. Credit: Helen Ciprini

Q. Imagine my surprise when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a quick moving lizard running from under my Globe Blue Spruce shrub into an opening in the rock wall beneath it! It all happened so fast that I didn’t really get a good look at it. After sitting quietly for awhile it came out in the open again. From what I could find on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that it may be an Italian wall lizard. It’s about 5-6 inches long, with a lime green color on its back and distinct dark stripes along his body. Can you give me any additional information about this lizard? Where did they come from? Will it survive the winter? My neighbor also has seen one in her yard.

Helen Ceprini, Massapequa

A. It is indeed an Italian wall lizard and their success story is one that I find very interesting. I first heard of these lizards in the early ’80s from a friend who worked as a meter reader in Franklin Square. He would see these lizards in late winter/early spring sunning themselves on the aluminum siding of the houses whose meters he was reading. It was hard for us to figure out what they were as there are no lizards native to Long Island and lizards commonly kept as pets in those days could not survive in cold weather. A pet store in Franklin Square sold Italian wall lizards at that time and it was pretty obvious that some must have gotten loose. They are incredibly fast. If they get out of an enclosure, there’s no way they can be caught again by hand. So from Franklin Square they ended up spreading all over Long Island, most likely hidden in bushes and mulch in landscapers’ vehicles. Since there are no native lizards here to compete with, they do no harm to the environment as other introduced species do. They do consume great quantities of insects that homeowners may not like having around. As long as there are some rocks in your backyard for them to hide under to hibernate through the winter then they are happy and enhance what is left of our natural world here in suburbia.

Q. My yorkiepoo has a potty area in one corner of my yard. For the last two weeks, whenever she goes to that corner two big gray-and-white birds dive bomb her and chase her away. Now the birds have taken up dive bombing her whenever she is in the yard and they even tried doing it to me. How badly can they hurt us and what can we do?

Patty Flyn, Freeport

A. I know that your fears are real here, but they are not grounded in fact. If the birds were going to hurt you or your dog, it would have happened already. They obviously are just bluffing. They are mockingbirds and if you held one in your hand, you would actually laugh at the fact that you were afraid of it.

Mockingbirds have a small bill that is used for eating insects and berries. A pet parakeet’s bill is many times stronger then a mockingbird’s. Its body is only 4 inches long. They look so scary because they have long wing and tail feathers that have a wide white band that flashes as they flap their wings. This tactic works well in chasing predators away from their nests. That is what they are doing here. There must be a nest in a thick shrub in your backyard and they feel threatened by you and your dog.

Even though I can explain this to you, I cannot explain it to your dog — so she will still be afraid. Umbrellas come in handy in chasing birds and other animals away. The best thing for you to do would be to take the dog to the potty spot on a lead and hold an open umbrella over your head. This will keep the mockingbirds at a distance. In three weeks or so when the babies are out of the nest, the situation will resolve itself as the parents do not have to be protective anymore.

Q. We feed a few feral cats in our yard that we have had trapped and then neutered. Two months ago we noticed a raccoon eating out of the cats’ dishes at night. At first we were afraid there would be a confrontation between the two species but there is not — the raccoons and cats eat right out of the same dish. Now we have three raccoons eating from the cats’ bowls and we are not quite sure what to do. Is it OK to be feeding the raccoons this way? How can we stop and yet still feed the cats?

Shirley Smith, Bethpage

A. There are several dangers here.

Raccoons are a rabies vector and if you have not had the cats vaccinated for rabies, then do so. I have been bitten and scratched by wild animals many times and getting the rabies shots is no joke even though they are less invasive now than they were decades ago.

It is never a good idea for a wild animals to lose their fear of humans. Staying away from people is the only thing most of them have going for them these days. When the raccoons learn that food comes from inside your house and that humans put it out there, they will not stop at doing whatever it takes to get at the food. Your home is literally at risk of being destroyed by them.

Not everyone is as nice to animals as you are. When the raccoons learn that humans are not a threat they can walk up to the wrong person and that could mean death to the raccoon.

So for the raccoons’ own good, stop feeding them.

Get the cats used to being fed at only a set time during the day and after they are done, take up the food and lock up your garbage cans so that there are no more temptations or lures for the raccoons. This will involve a bit of work for you at first and a bit of confusion for the cats but it will work out well in the end and all three species will benefit.


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