The knock on my front door was loud and insistent. It was Bobby, who lives next door. “There’s an iguana in my yard,” he said. “Do you want to see it?”
Did I want to see it??? Are you kidding me??? Wildlife sightings in my heavily wooded neighborhood are common, but I’d never once encountered a tropical lizard. I wanted to see the iguana so badly that I didn’t even take time to put on appropriate reptile-chasing footwear. Instead, I slipped into the flip-flops I keep by the door, grabbed my phone and hurried up the hill to Bobby’s front yard. Neighbors were crowded around his storage shed.
“He’s under there,” Bobby told us, pointing. “He’ll come out in a minute. I’m sure of it.”
As if on cue, the lizard emerged. But this creature didn’t look like any iguana I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen several. It wasn’t green. Instead, it was covered in beautiful black and white dots and stripes. Was this some kind of deviant iguana, or was it something else entirely? Before I could google that question, the lizard took off running—fast as lightning!–across the road. He paused long enough for me to take a couple of pictures before scooting under a shed in another neighbor’s yard.
Clearly, it was time for us spectators to formulate a plan.
We all agreed that the lizard needed to be captured. Though he was three feet long and fierce-looking, he’d be no match for the predators that inhabit our woods. Especially after dark, which was coming on. But how do you catch a reptile this size? None of us had a net or a trap or a stun gun. It was after five o’clock on a Friday and doubtful that law enforcement or the TWRA would answer a non-emergency phone line. All I could think to do was call Tiffany, another neighbor whom I knew to be an animal lover.
She hurried over and, shining a flashlight under the shed, identified the lizard as a tegu, a word I’d never heard. “He must be a pet that was dumped or got loose,” she said. “If somebody will get me a pair of leather gloves, I’ll go in after him.”
And that’s exactly what she did. In a belly crawl that would make any U.S. Marine proud, Tiffany made her way under the shed and then backed out with the tegu firmly in hand. But at the very last minute, he slipped from her grasp. In desperation, she lunged for his tail and pulled him out into the yard. Then—and I promise I’m not making one word of this up—the tegu bolted again. Again, Tiffany grabbed for his tail, which was as big around as the handle of a baseball bat. The tail popped loose from the tegu’s body and, spewing blood, went flying into the yard, where it thrashed around like something out of a Stephen King novel.
Bobby calmly picked it up and threw it into the woods.
We placed the wounded animal in a Rubbermaid box with a piece of lattice work bungeed to the top to prevent escape. Then I posted his picture on Facebook. THIS GUY WAS LOOSE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, I wrote. HE’S BEEN CAPTURED. NOW WHAT DO WE DO? More than a hundred people responded, some with foolishness but many with good advice. A married couple who rescues reptiles came from clear across town and picked him up. Even better, they handed him over the next morning to his grateful owner, who lives about half a mile from me and who saw the Facebook post when she got off work.
So all’s well that ends well. The tegu will heal. His tail will almost certainly grow back, though it won’t be as long or strong or pretty as his original one. And I got a newspaper column simply by answering a knock at my door.
(August 12, 2023)