Xavier Magazine

Lizard Tales

The best way to catch a lizard is to corner the critter and then pounce, grabbing it with your bare hands. George Farnsworth’s biology students perfected the technique last fall while tracking lizards for a population and genetics study.

Once in hand, each lizard is weighed, the body length measured, and a snippet of tail removed. Then a tiny hole is made in the dorsal skin, and a small radio frequency identification (RFID) capsule is inserted with a syringe. Finally, a little drop of Superglue seals the hole shut.

Farnsworth, an assistant professor of biology, is carrying on the work started by retired professor Stanley Hedeen, who researched the successful adaptation of the famed Lazarus lizards, originally of northern Italy, to their new environment in the hills of Cincinnati’s well-heeled O’Bryonville neighborhood. He found the lizards, who arrived in the mid-1900s in the pockets of the Lazarus family boys, adapted well, migrating along railroad tracks and rocky walls to start new colonies several miles away.

Now Farnsworth is using the RFID capsules, which look like Christmas light fuses, to more accurately measure the lizards’ adaptation. The lizards’ tail snips are used for genetic comparison to the gene pool of their European cousins. His students, all senior biology majors, caught and injected about 50 of the little critters last fall in two local neighborhoods. This spring, they were back out gathering more data they hope will show which population is growing better and faster.

“We’re trying to learn the status of the populations and whether they are growing or are stable. We want to know what is it about those areas that promotes growth,” says Farnsworth, who expects the study to last at least five years. “But first we have to know which one has more lizards and why.”

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