I Guess We’re Lizard People Now

No, not that kind of lizard people.

Our house has a basement. It’s not a nice finished basement where you might host Super Bowl parties or movie marathons, but it’s a basement, and that was a requirement when we were searching for a house in an area known for devastating tornadoes. The basement gets damp when it rains as the water seeps through the stone walls to the drain and even though we had the windows replaced, “sealed up” is not a word I would used to describe it, mainly because that’s two words, but also because it’s not accurate.

There are two doors to the basement. One is outside the house and accessed through one of those angled doors that as a kid you can pretend is a crummy slide (crummy because it’s not slick enough to slide down if you try, but slick enough that your feet will zip right out from under you if you climb on it after playing in the sprinkler, and also crummy because it’s not a very steep slope, which really ends up being a good thing when the sprinkler and the door conspire to bring you down). Even though what it goes to might not technically be a “cellar,” it’s a cellar door, right? The cellar door opens to a couple of concrete steps, decorated with cobwebs and usually occupied by a judgmental toad, and a janky wooden door that is falling off the hinges and definitely looks like something that would make the audience in a horror movie yell, “Don’t open it, stupid!” It’s okay this time, horror audience; it just goes to the basement.

The other door to the basement is inside our house and opens directly to some irregular wooden stairs. Kalen has installed a motion sensor in the stairwell so that the light turns on automatically when we step through the door, which is great because I’m clumsy enough and if I’m walking down rickety stairs in the dark with a clunky toolbox, I’m almost certain to fall and break my neck along with the stairs, and then I’d be stuck in the basement with no way for anyone to rescue me, unless they came through the cellar door, but the judgmental toad and the chorus of the horror audience might turn them away before they got to me. So I’m a fan of the automatic light.

When the days start getting shorter and I plod to the kitchen in the dark to make breakfast before the sun is quite up, I walk past the basement door and sometimes notice that the motion light is on even though we’ve all been sleeping for the last eight hours and definitely not going into the basement. The first time this happened I was pretty freaked out and made Kalen get out of the shower to investigate. The cellar door was still locked and none of the windows were broken or even opened, and there was definitely no one creeping around the basement. Not to mention the fact that our most reliable security system (the 90 pound canine known as Pippin) hadn’t sounded any kind of alarm.

I recalled when Kalen tried to put a similar motion sensor in our closet and we were suddenly and rudely awoken in the middle of the night when the light turned on. In the moment, Kalen had thought it was some weird fluke with the sensor, or maybe a ghost, but a few days later we caught a mouse, and suspected that was actually the culprit. Based on how I’ve already described the basement, I’m sure you are not surprised by my assumption that the basement light is also occasionally being tripped by mice as they explore the foundations of our home.

Before I go too much further, I must remind you that, jokes aside, I am being a little vulnerable here. Yes, we sometimes get mice in our house. I’ve admitted before that I’m not a great housekeeper, but we do make sure we put food away, we take out the trash when it needs it, the Roomba runs daily to help keep the piles of dog hair at bay, and I really do try to minimize clutter around the house and especially on the floor. So I’m sharing this with you and trusting that you won’t think I live in filth like some kind of trash goblin. Sometimes we catch a couple mice in a short span, and I get really self conscious about the state of the house, and then I get a glimpse into other people’s houses and assure myself I’m doing okay.

One time I casually mentioned to someone that we had caught a mouse, and the person I was talking to was shocked and said, “How did a mouse get in your house?!” And all I could answer was “It’s a hundred year old house; it leaks like a sieve, and mice are sneaky little bastards.” Okay, I didn’t say all of that because the person was my boss and I didn’t think she’d like me using the word “bastards” on company time, but the rest is true. It is an old house, and now that we’ve had the windows replaced, it’s not quite as leaky, but we still get a whiff of the neighbors’ fireworks smoke on the Fourth of July. So I know not to judge too harshly about the occasional mouse, but I don’t know if everyone else does. So no judgment. Deal?

But we’ve had a few more surprise visitors and I’m not quite sure what these visitors say about my home. We had a bat once, which was quite the event, but I’ll share that another time, and it really wasn’t that unusual. You almost hear more about bats than mice from people with old houses.

We had a snake once, which I know will make a lot of people shudder and say, “Nope! Time to move! Burn the house down!” but he was so little and cute! Also, when Kalen and I first moved in together, we made a deal. He would take care of any spiders and I would take care of snakes. It’s a great arrangement, and far more practical than “one partner likes olives, the other partner hates olives.” So I was a little excited to finally have the opportunity to uphold my end of the deal.

Really, this was a tiny snake. I’ve seen earthworms several times the size of this snake. We had just walked in the door from running some errand and there he was, on the dining room floor curled up in a little patch of faint late November sunlight coming through the window. I caught him in a cup and released him in a flowerbed. I later identified him as a Dekay’s brown snake, which apparently eats slugs and soft insects, and honestly wished I had just put him in the basement to feast on slugs and camel crickets.

I know a lot of people refuse to tolerate snakes, even the tiny ones that the Department of Conservation says have no defense “except […] pooping on their captors” (really, that’s a direct quote) but I took this snake’s presence as a compliment. Reptiles are really pretty sensitive, and it felt nice to know my home was warm, safe, and quiet enough and free from harsh unnatural chemicals.

Two weeks later, we had another visitor. We were sitting in the living room watching television and Pippin’s head popped up as he pointed at something scurrying across the floor (the way hunting dogs point, not with a finger like, “Would ya look at that!”). We saw a thin, hairless tail disappear behind the bookcase.

“Damn, another mouse,” we thought. After all, it was right next to Pippin’s food bowl, and that has been a mouse attractant in the past. Pippin crept up to the bookcase and looked back at us to confirm that we had seen it too. But then it scurried out from the other side of the bookcase and around the corner into our bedroom, and we saw that it was not a mouse, but a lizard.

I do use this cup for things other than catching reptiles, but only after a thorough sanitization, obviously.

Honestly, after the mice, bat, and snake, a lizard was not all that surprising. There are scads of them in our neighborhood, and in the spring and summer they bask on retaining walls and sidewalks, scattering when we go on our walks. I had just assumed that they buried themselves in the dirt to hibernate for the winter, the same way toads do. But apparently at least one was living his best life in the basement or, more likely, the crawlspace, and had ventured upstairs in a fit of wild curiosity.

The lizard was quickly captured and deposited in the yard in a very similar manner to the little snake. I didn’t think much of it, and time passed.

Then on Monday, after almost two years of no reptilian visitors, we once again sat down to watch television (it hadn’t been two years since we had watched television, we do that more than we should) and a little lizard scampered across the floor and hid under the bookcase. We laughed and caught him and took him outside.

I also have different cups for catching lizards and snakes.

Every couple has their inside jokes and unique ways of saying, “I love you.” One of ours (completely unsurprisingly) comes from Futurama. Sometimes, usually after walking through the yard and laughing at the scattering reptiles, we say, “I’m gonna get you so many lizards!” It’s from an episode where Fry is trying to decide on the best gift for Leela to show her he loves her. He has $500 and can either buy one $500 parrot or five hundred stink lizards for a buck apiece. Later she saves his life, and he says with awe, “I am gonna get you so many lizards!” When we see how many lizards run through the yard, we joke that Kalen really must love me because we bought this house and it came with so many lizards. We really are classically romantic, aren’t we?

It seems there have been even more lizards this year than in the past, but we don’t know much about them. They don’t seem to hurt anything, and they’re funny to watch. Some of our neighbors have remarked that their cats particularly enjoy hunting the lizards, but the cats don’t seem to be hurting the population at all. And when it comes to tiny critters crawling around my house, I think I’d choose the lizards over mice. The lizards don’t seem to have any interest in pooping on countertops or gnawing into items stored in the pantry. I think they eat bugs. I’d rather have the occasional lizard than bugs. And I haven’t seen lizard poop anywhere, even though I know they must poop.

Last night we were getting ready for bed, and I went to close the dining room curtains. It was already dark outside and the lights were off and when I closed the first curtain something hit my shoulder and then fell to the floor. I stood there a moment, frozen in confusion. I hadn’t flung the curtain hard enough for it to whip back and hit my shoulder. The plants on the bookcase and plant stand on either side of the window were shorter than my shoulder, and even though whatever it was didn’t feel any heavier than a leaf, a leaf wouldn’t have defied gravity first to fly up to hit my shoulder and then fall. I crossed the room and turned the light on to investigate

Kalen came to check on me at the exact moment I was doing a little heebie-jeebie dance. I had discovered that what must have hit my shoulder was another lizard. Two in as many days! I’m not afraid of lizards, but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of one being on my body without me realizing. This one was apparently fond of climbing the curtains, and when I slid it closed, he had leapt off in terror only to hit my shoulder on the way down. When I spotted him, he was on his way back up.

We got a couple of cups to try and catch him, but he evaded us this time, disappearing behind the washing machine and hopefully back outside via the basement.

It looks like I’m luring this lizard into the cup, but I am actually emptying him into the flower bed, and he’s taunting me about falling down on my grandparents’ cellar door as a small child.

To write this post, I decided I’d better do a little research about the lizards. I found out that they’re Italian Wall Lizards, or Ruin Lizards, because apparently they like to run around on ancient Roman ruins. So I might have to reassess whether their presence is a compliment or not. Maybe they just heard me practicing my Latin and Greek and thought “Ah, the motherland!” That seems more preferable than them thinking my house is in such bad shape that it’s akin to crumbling temples.

I was at least right in assuming that they eat bugs, and there have been a few flies in here driving me crazy, so if I have to exercise a little more caution in closing the curtains (an ideal position for hunting and catching flies, really), or shake out my shoes before I put them on, I think that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Not that I want so many lizards in the house. And if I can catch them to put them back outside even better. All I’m saying is one here or there to eat some bugs is tolerable. I just hope they don’t crawl on me in my sleep. But at least the heebie-jeebie dance burns calories, right?

13 thoughts on “I Guess We’re Lizard People Now

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    1. More lizards than we know what to do with (which really isn’t a great metric for lizards, because one is more than I know what to do with, but you get it 😂)

  1. I have done the heebie jeebie dance more than once! 😁🐍😁. Florida is heebie jeebie heaven! I love the way you two say “I love you!”❤

  2. I live only four doors away from Holly and Kalen, and yes, we all have old houses with damp basements with an occasional mouse, various insects, and LOTS of lizards. This is thanks to a naturalist who lived across the street from me who bought lizards from a scientific supply company and then released dozens of them to keep down the insect population. We have been blessed with a growing population ever since. So no judgement from me! We kind of like seeing them darting around the garden!

    1. I suppose the relatively recent introduction of the lizards explains why dept of conservation doesn’t list them on the field guide of Missouri lizards. We enjoy the lizards too, and I can’t imagine how many bugs there would be without them!

  3. Theoretical mice (cartoons) are so cute. When you have one in your house it is a completely different critter. Logically I know the lizards eat bugs and spiders are predators of other bugs. Emotionally, I don’t like little things running around in my house and feel that they have made a poor choice to enter it. So the consequences of their poor choice are on them, not me.

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