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 Texas : Features : Animals :

Dove Key Ranch Wildlife Rehabilitation
Animal of the Week

Six-lined Racerunner
(Cnemidophorus sexlineatus)

by Bonnie Wroblewski
Our most recent admit: a female six-lined racerunner. She was discovered slow to move and freshly de-tailed in a local barn. With a little bit of TLC and lots of heat, she seems to be on the road to recovery, energetically chomping down her daily fare of crickets. The black blotch that extends across her right side is a scar remaining from a fully healed over wound of the past, which leaves us with great hope that this tough female will fully recuperate and be back chasing down lunch in the wild in no time.
Six-lined Racerunners in Texas
Photo courtesy Dove Key Ranch Wildlife Rehabilitation

Six-lined Racerunners in Texas:

Identifiable by their fast and jerky dashes and the six light-colored lines that streak from head to tail base, six-lined racerunners enliven well-drained, sun-filled environs across all but extreme west Texas. These 6 Ė 10 1/2 inch long lizards advertise their age and sex through subtle coloration schemes: females wear inconspicuous white throat scales, while males don flashy green to bluish hues along their gular regions. Juvenile racerunners boast their youth in the form of blue tails, while more mature individuals can be identified by discreet tan to brownish tails.

Once the proper social displays have been traded, pairs mate in the beginning of April through late June. Egg-laden females deposit one to six fertilized eggs in a specially dug brooder burrow that can be up to a foot below ground. Under favorable conditions, the act may be repeated once more over the summer, at least three weeks following the initial deposit. Approximately two months later, blue-tailed youngsters hatch and dig upwards to the dry grasslands, woodlands, or coastal dunes that will become their hunting grounds.

Darting out from vegetated cover to snatch the hapless invertebrates that comprise its diet, a six-lined racerunner can reach speeds of up to 18 mph! Strong hind legs and elongated toes help to propel these reptiles swiftly towards dinner or away from numerous aerial and terrestrial predators (hawks, snakes, and the neighborís cat to name a few). In addition to sheer rapidity, this lizard speciesí namesake striping contributes to successful getaways: the horizontal lines blur in motion, making the desired prey difficult to detect and impeding the judgment of just how fast that racerunner is racing. At the end of a chase is usually a safe burrow, which these reptiles excavate to hide not only from predators, but also from overnight lows and winter cold snaps. In some cases, the erratically-fleeing racerunner is captured by its attacker and is forced to use its last chance resort: it drops part or all of its tail. Hopefully, as in the case of our patient, the pursuer will be distracted and/or satiated by the still writhing appendage, permitting the main course to escape and sprint another day. Although caudal autotomy may appear like a win-win situation, the energy needed to regenerate a new tail may cost a female racerunner the next reproductive season and tailless lizards risk losing dominance, choice mates, and their original level of speed and maneuverability. Plus, itís a one-shot deal: once your tailís gone, thereís no using this trick to evade future predators until a new tail has grown back.

So, as you wilt in the shade sipping an ice cold beverage of your choice on the next blistering mid-summerís day, enjoy these hyper, striped sun-worshippers, zipping around after insect meals and divulging the stories of near catastrophes by foreshortened tails.

© Bonnie Wroblewski
http://www.dovekeywildlife.org
May 13, 2010

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