Dr. John Wiens with a Moroccan Chameleon

Dr. John Wiens, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutional Biology, U. of A.

Thursday, June 13, 2019, 2:30-3:30 p.m., The Arizona Senior Academy Building 

Professor Wiens approaches the study of reptiles and amphibians from a phylogenic and ecological perspective.  He asks broad questions about the relationship between phylogeny, evolution, and ecology. At U. of A. he teaches Herpetology (for majors) and Diversity of Life (non-majors).  His talk on lizards will deal with the types, behaviors, evolutionary history, variety of adaptations, and special features of lizard taxa (genetically similar organisms).

There are 96 species of lizards in the Southwest desert, about a dozen species around Tucson, and about 5000 worldwide. Lizards are bedecked with scales, crests, horns, spines, hairs, and even “wings.” They eat ants, termites, flies, spiders, worms, crickets, caterpillars, and one another. They are carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Horned lizards might cannibalize their own. Reproduction varies between laying leathery eggs and giving live birth. Whiptail lizards need no male assistance to propagate. Asexually, they produce a brood of genetically identical females from unfertilized eggs. Komodo dragons, the largest lizards, do similarly.

Lizards are full of surprises, and we expect that John Wiens will find ways of astonishing us with their characteristics and habits, such as their varied defense mechanisms: camouflage, snapping off their wiggling tail, squirting blood from their eyes, emitting awful odor, or running fast upright on hind legs like the “Jesus Christ” lizards that can “walk on water.” 

Raised in Colorado, John Wiens loved finding reptiles as a young boy. At the University of Kansas he majored in Zoology, where his honors thesis was on tree lizards. His University of Texas dissertation (1995) was on the Phylogeny of Lizards. From 1995-2002 he was a curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  He joined Stony Brook University in 2002 and the University of Arizona in 2013.

Written by  Brack Brown, Academy Village Volunteer   

Photo Caption: John Wiens with a Moroccan Chameleon

June 13: “Leaping Lizards!”