Olivia OutsideWhat is that?”

This is, by far, the Most Frequently Asked Question when it comes to Olivia. The amount and type of information that I choose to give in reply usually depends on the tone of voice in which the question was asked. For those (admittedly few) who ask with the fascination of scientific inquiry, I am always delighted to announce “A uromastxy maliensis!” Most people, however, ask with a mix of interest and apprehension that would be neither enlightened nor assured by such an answer, no matter how technically correct it may be. In that case, my answer is usually something along the lines of “A uromastix lizard; they’re from the desert in Mali, West Africa.” And for the rare occasion when the tone of voice doesn’t quite mask the revulsion, I simply say “A desert lizard.” Which is usually more than he or she really wanted to know.

“What does it eat?”

This is probably the second most frequently asked question. Apparently, most people are under the assumption that any reptile bigger than a paperclip is a voracious meat-eater, gobbling up mice, rats, fingers, squirrels, chihuahuas, or small children on a daily basis. That’s the only way I can think of to justify their extreme surprise when they are informed that Olivia is a vegetarian, preferring to gobble up such things as collard greens, green beans, dried peas and lentils, blackberries, and (her favorite!) bright yellow prickly pear cactus flowers. She also prefers to be hand-fed:

Olivia Eating

“Do you ever let him run around the house?”

HER. Olivia is a female! I don’t know why so many people insist on calling my lizard “him” even after I’ve been saying “her” for the past five minutes. Olivia must have gotten tired of it, too, because one year she decided to lay more than a dozen eggs. I can just picture her saying, “So there!”

“Oh yeah, sorry; do you ever let her run around the house?”

Yes! She seems to enjoy exploring the house once in awhile, waddling from room to room, sniffing everything (which for a lizard means sticking her tongue out at it), and squeezing behind or under anything that I’ll let her. Since she usually comes back out pretty quickly, only a few places are off limits, like under the refrigerator. The refrigerator incident is a whole story in itself…

“Don’t you worry about her… you know…’going’ in the house?”

No. Olivia actually house-trained herself! When she needs to, she comes to the front of her tank and scratches on the glass. I take her outside and that’s where she leaves the mess. Amazing!

“What are all the lights for?”

The two dome lights over her tank are for heat. Like I said, she’s from the desert, and she likes it hot. On the highest basking point, it can get up to 130 F. The fluorescent bulb is for UVB light. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to metabolize calcium, and her bones would literally deteriorate. We made her an outdoor enclosure so she could get the light from the sun, too.

“How long have you had her? How long do they live?”

We’ve had Olivia since March 26, 2004. A few uros on record have lived as long as about 20 years. I’m hoping she’ll be another one!