“Aaaaaarghhh!” I screamed at the top of my lungs and scrambled away from the wall as fast as I could. I huddled at the far end of my room, shaking with fright and staring transfixed at the lizard that had just scampered from behind the painting that I was dusting.

I slowly took one step towards the door, but it moved too and I was rooted to my spot. I waved the dust cloth a little bit to scare it away, but it didn’t budge. I thought of shouting for help, but somehow my vocal cords failed me.

“Hello,” it said and I nearly fainted.

“Oh no, not again!” I thought.

You see, a few weeks ago, I had interviewed a honeybee and it got published in Young World. Since then, I have been approached by many small insects who wanted their stories to appear in the newspaper too. Some were nice and friendly and I have no qualms about interviewing them, but I most certainly did not want to get in conversation with an ugly brown lizard.

“You don’t seem too pleased to see me,” it said.

“That has to be the understatement of the century,” I muttered under my breath.

“If you have a little time, I would love to tell you about myself,” it said a little humbly.

It seemed I had little choice, so I edged towards my desk, which was thankfully far from the wall where my unwanted guest was perched.

“While most of us are harmless, I have certain cousins you wouldn’t want to mess with. Like the Komodo dragon that has a venomous bite or Gila Monster and even the Mexican beaded lizard,” it paused, while I stood there petrified, imagining a large, venomous reptile coming to pay me a visit if I insulted its little cousin!

“Hmmm, so let me tell you about myself,” it started. “We have existed for more than 200 million years. There are more than 5,600 different species of lizards and we are found everywhere on the planet, except Antarctica. Geckos, iguanas, chameleons are all part of the lizard family.

“While most of us are harmless, I have certain cousins you wouldn’t want to mess with. Like the Komodo dragon that has a venomous bite or Gila Monster and even the Mexican beaded lizard,” it paused, while I stood there petrified, imagining a large, venomous reptile coming to pay me a visit if I insulted its little cousin!

“Throughout history, we have been known to bring good luck, wisdom and good fortune. In ancient Egypt, the lizard symbol in their hieroglyphic meant “plentiful” or “abundant”. In Spain and Portugal, people sometimes put a decor of a lizard or gecko on the walls of their homes to attract good luck. Native Americans used us to make medicines, while the ancient Chinese prayed to lizard deities for rain and prosperity.”

All this boasting didn’t impress me a bit, so I asked, “Tell me about your daily routine?”

“Well, we are reptiles, so we are cold-blooded animals. This means we rely on our environment to keep our bodies warm. We like to lie on warm surfaces or sun bathe during the day to absorb heat and then hunt for food or wait for it to come our way.”

“What do you like to eat?” I asked my next question.

“Most of us are carnivores and we love to eat ants, cockroaches, wasps, spiders, termites, birds’ eggs and even other lizards. Some of us are herbivores and like fruits, leaves and vegetables. You think of us as pests, but we actually help to reduce the population of flying insects by preying on flies, mosquitoes, moths and other insects. That is why you will see us mostly around your porch lights, which attracts moths and flies.”

“How are you able to crawl on walls?” I asked curiously

“We have toepads that enable us to crawl on smooth surfaces. We are also capable of rapid movement and can change direction very quickly. That is why it is difficult to catch us.

“We are very proud of our tails, you know,” it said smugly. “If we are threatened by a predator, we drop off our tail. This phenomenon is called autotomy. The tail twitches and distracts the predator so that we have time to escape. Sometimes after shedding our tail, we return later to see if it is still there and eat it!”

“Ewwww!” I felt the breakfast rise up to my throat, but I swallowed down and hastily asked, “Is there any way to get rid of you?”

“Well, that’s not very polite. But I will answer your question,” replied my scaly guest, haughtily. “We do not like the smell of onions, garlic or eggshells, and try to run away from such odours. Similarly, we do not like plants like peppermint and eucalyptus and adding them to your garden will probably make us feel unwelcomed.

“Some people use naphthalene or mothballs in their storerooms, to keep us away, but you must be cautious as they are hazardous and should be kept out of reach of children. The best way to get rid of us is cleanliness. If there is no trash or uncovered food lying around the house, there won’t be many insects and flies, and we will have to go elsewhere to look for food. We can easily live on rooftops, trees and rocks, but when we see juicy bugs in your house we have to come and pay a visit.”

“And what’s your favourite place to hide inside a home?”

“Once inside the home, we enjoy hanging out in small, dark or covered spaces. People usually do not clean under couches and heavy tables or behind picture frames on walls or bookshelves. Closets, storerooms and potted plants are also our favourite hiding places. In fact, right after this interview, I plan to meet my friend who is currently living behind the pile of newspapers under your stairs.”

Enraged, I threw the cloth duster towards my unwelcome guest, but it quickly scampered away towards the window. Pausing near the open window, it turned towards me and said, “I know you do not like us and it is true we can be source of food contamination and filth around the house, but you must realise that Allah did not create any creature without a purpose. A lot of research is being done on how we regenerate our tails, it is to help people who have lost their limbs in wars, bomb explosions or due to birth defects.

“Even the powerful venom of the Gila monster has medicinal properties and one of its components has been used to develop a diabetes drug. So scientific research on our species is helping in advancing human health. Some of our species are also a source of food in many impoverished South American and African countries. If you don’t want us inside your home, keep it clean and free from insects, flies and garbage, and we might stay away too. Now I am going. Ciao!”

I mentally promised myself not to let any clutter accumulate in my home and to get rid of all broken and useless objects which usually end up in storerooms. And now I am going to clean under my stairs and hope that I won’t meet another big, fat lizard there. Wish me luck!

Fun facts about lizards

• The smallest lizard is the Jaragua lizard, which can grow up to only 1.5 centimetres, while the largest lizard is the Komodo dragon, which can grow up to 2.6 metres long!

• Lizards smell by tasting the air around them. This is why they are often seen with sticking out their tongues!

• Only three types of lizard have venom — the Komodo dragon, the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard.

• Some lizard species have very small or no legs, and are often mistaken as snakes. But, unlike snakes, lizards have eyelids and external ears.

• Lizards have some amazing defence mechanisms. The tail of a glass lizard can shatter into several pieces like glass to distract predators. Short-horned lizards can shoot blood from their eyes, which contains a noxious chemical to drive away enemies.

• A herpetologist is a scientist who studies lizards, snakes and other reptiles.

• Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles, specifically snakes and lizards.

• Lizards are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world and green iguana is one type of lizards that people commonly eat.

• The Basilisk lizard can run on water, while the marine Galapagos lizard can swim and can even hold its breath for up to an hour while under water!

Published in Dawn, Young World, January 8th, 2022

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