Aug 3, 2005

A question of psychological equilibrium.

At least I think it is.

Most every kid knows that if you catch an anole (those ubiquitous little colour-change lizards*, chameleons we used to call them) and place it on it's back it seems to go into some sort of trance state, like an orientation-induced hypnosis.

Now I'm sure someone out there can tell me, and I know also that if I were so inclined and had the time to do it I could sieve the endless wastes of the internet and find the real reason, but for right now I'm more content to simply wonder out loud. I find myself much happier when I'm allowed to hold a sort of internal discourse (which is then expressed here, externally) on things of wonder.

I'm glad, you see, that there are still wonders in the world, still things that we haven't figured out. I'm glad everything isn't open to us like a big book, whose knowledge can be ours simply by flipping pages and scanning for the pretty pictures. I like that we have to fight and struggle for the answers, and even then there's the possibility the answers we get are wrong, or are right only when applied to the very small problem we're focused on, and not the big problem we can't even see yet. I like the fact that something like a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers can suddenly come out of extinction in a forest in Arkansas after 60+ years of us being certain they were gone. I love it when Nature throws us a curve ball.

I'm both immensely reassured and deeply terrified that there are things out there so vast and unknowable that everything we are is as a single mote in their collective eye.

So why do anoles (and I think toads too) fall asleep when you put them upside down on your hand? Almost every other creature in the world will fight like the Deeevil hisself when placed in a position that they do not like, including upside down or seated in a cleverly-designed insect roller coaster. Turtles, the most maudlin of all creatures, will fight to their last to be right-side-upped. So anoles don't fit the bill properly. Their giant sibling the alligator USES being upside down (at least temporarily) when doing that death spin thing they do to tear huge hunks of their last airboat-carried meal apart. Sloths, who have little or no real relationship to anoles spend almost their entire life hanging mostly upside down. Flies, whose braincase is mostly taken up with eyes (I mean really, how much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a pile of dung?) have enough computing power to flail their little legs around all crazy-like when they're upside down. So what is it about being upside down that stuns anoles into quiescence?

And furthermore, what do they THINK about when they're lying there with their little mint-green bellies exposed? They seem pretty calm about it, they do. Their respiration doesn't increase, they don't flail about, they even stop trying to bite. They simply relax. So the question then, to me, becomes "What are they thinking about?"

Before you start tossing off angry comments to me, I know anoles don't think, or at least they don't cognate in the same manner that we do. I know their little skulls are just big enough to house their basic functional limits, just enough wetware to tell them how to climb, how to eat bugs, what bugs won't fit in their mouths, and how to make that little red thing come out of their throats properly so it'll score them a piece of tail. I doubt seriously that there are anoles out there who are quoting the lizard version of Shakespeare, or who are deeply engaged in a comprehensive study of the heavens. I would even be surprised to find that there might be an anole or two out there who has a conciousness of self.

But damnit, what are they thinking about when they're upside down?

"Oh dear, another Biology 101 teacher is going to show off my limb articulation."

"Sheesh, here we go again. I hate my belly being rubbed."

"Wow...everything is Dude."

"Eeek, everyone can see my no-no spot!"

I really have to wonder. So tell me, what do YOU think anoles think about when they're turned upside down.

* You'll no doubt have noted that I used the letter 'z' in the word "lizard" today. If you did, congratulate yourself on your perception. If you didn't, just tell everyone you did spot it and I'll back your play. I used that 'z' because when I try and spell "lizard" with an 's' it looks rather peculiar--"lisard." It looks like I'm trying to spell the name of that nice waiter who works at that fancy-schmancy french restraunt downtown, "La Maison Bouffe la Tete" and not describing a small, leggy reptile that lives in your azelea bushes and eats small insects.


Regal Monkey said...

I wanted to come up with some comedic quip, but alas, I think I am in a more practical vein today (rare for me, I know)... I bet he's likely playing dead as he realizes (on some level) he's lost control... if he's on his back as a result of some force greater than he, then he has to know he's in the weaker position... instead of saying "uncle", he rolls over hoping you'll think he's already passed on and just praying (we won't even get into the feasibility of them praying...) you won't eat him!

Regal Monkey said...


Vulgar Wizard said...

Upside-down lizard thinking to himself: "I wonder what this human is thinking about when he's turning me upside down? If I lie very still, he'll go away."

And you used the letter "z" the other day in the word "size" FYI.