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Over 20 small hands flew to the sky after students at Kester Elementary were asked who thought they could do more push ups than a blue bellied lizard?

“I know I can,” shouted a young student towards the front of the class! “Well how many push ups do you think a lizards can do,” I asked.

My question was met with a puzzled chattering among students who guessed anywhere from 19 to 1,000 pushups.  They were surprised to find that I had no idea how many pushups a blue bellied lizard could actually complete. But the point of my question was not to calculate the exercise habits of lizards but rather to encourage kids to start asking the questions to which they have no answer and to not be afraid of discovering an answer for themselves.

Kids at Kestler Elementary proudly display their medals

Western Fence Lizard a.k.a Blue-Belly Lizard

To maintain high body temperatures, Western fence lizards climb toward the sun— scaling rocks, trees and fences— hence the name! More commonly referred to as the blue-belly, this reptile gets its nickname from the blue or turquoise patches of color that can be found along its abdomen and throat. If you spot a bright-blue colored lizard, it is likely a male, as colors in male lizards intensify to attract a female mate. On its top side, the Western fence lizard is covered in sandy brown, yellow, and light colored scales to blend in with their environment.

Like the blue markings, pushups are used as a mating display to show off the bold blue of their bellies. Lizards have also been observed doing push ups when they feel that their territory is threatened by an outsider.  When frightened by an approaching predator the blue-belly will detach its tail, which continues to twitch, to distract anyone who might want to make a meal of it.

Kids love to catch blue-belly’s, either with a little grass leash or by hand. When caught and gently rubbed on the belly, the Blue-belly can enter a hypnotic state for up to five minutes. But it is important to remember that if you catch a lizard, you must be gentle with it — wild lizards enjoy their outdoor spaces and you should avoid capturing a free lizard and keeping it as a pet.

Western Fence Lizard. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

If I have learned anything from our school visits, it is that children have a natural born curiosity about the way things work, especially when it relates to the natural world.  Infants study their surroundings and it seems like young kids can ask hundreds of questions about why things work the way they do in an attempt to expand their understanding of the world. Sometime between infantry and adulthood, Western society encourages people to move indoors, meet production goals and spend less time with their hands in the dirt. As people move inside, the disconnect between humans and nature becomes more prevalent.

For this reason, the Havasi Wilderness Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to visit with young students and remind them of their connection to the wild. Founder, Alex Havasi, explains to every classroom full of students that the wilderness begins inside of each an everyone of us. After all, we are made of the same salty water that you can find in our oceans and the same bacteria decomposing matter in the forests can be found inside our bodies. It is because of this special relationship with the outside world that we have an obligation to live responsibly and care for the natural world.

A special thanks to Donalynn Baba and Irene Dorsey, the teachers at Kester Elementary for encouraging their kids to explore the world around them!

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