Tisha Farris, the author of this month's Nature Notes, attended the University of Pittsburgh and earned a Bachelor’s Degree studying the environment and focusing on hydrological processes and sustainability. Tisha hopes to work within the larger community to enhance people’s understanding and relationship with water and other resources.
Six months ago, I began an internship with The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands Project in Newton County, Indiana. I had been living in New Mexico at the time, and I did not know what to expect of the climate and ecology of the new area. Much to my pleasant surprise, both locations have flora and fauna I recognize, including the prickly pear cactus and the six-lined racerunner lizard. As it turns out, all three of us enjoy living in sunny and low-humidity places.
Six-lined racerunners can be found throughout most of the United States. Racerunners in the Midwest are called prairie racerunners, and they have green-colored heads, as opposed to those in the Southwest, which have blue-green heads. I have sighted a few prairie racerunners at Kankakee Sands, and they seem to act similarly to those I am used to seeing in New Mexico.
A six-lined racerunner is especially difficult to view up-close because they are incredibly fast. Luckily, it has six pale blue or yellow horizontal lines running down its back. These lines run along the entire length of its 6”-10” body, making the lizard easier to identify as it races away from the observer. The racerunner will be out in the early hours of the day on the hottest days of summer, basking in the sun as all lizards do. They are not active during cool or cloudy days and are not seen at night because they are fast asleep in their burrows.
This little lizard has to be quick to grab dinner as well escape being eaten by certain snakes and birds. Their normal diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, ants, flies, small moths, and moth or butterfly larvae. The racerunner is known to be very wary by nature, so they make an early departure from any remotely threatening situation. At work we typically see them as they scurry out from beneath one plant on their way to another hiding place.
Although skittish, the six-lined racerunner does inhabit near and around man-made structures. In fact, they are great for pest control. Having one live on your property is a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if you do not care for ants or spiders around your home. I have seen racerunners at my family home in New Mexico while sitting at my deck. I would sit with my morning coffee most Saturdays and watch the lizards with pale stripes and a slightly blue-gray tinged tail grab their breakfast from the ant hill and dart back under the cover of my porch. Now, I see them at work out in the field or around the outside of the office at the Kankakee Sands Restoration Project Site, and I smile every time.
If you are hoping to see one, first start by finding a dry and sandy place to explore and plan to be there all morning on a sunny summer day. In addition, you might bring binoculars to see the details of this illusive lizard up close. Once they start running, they can reach up to 18 miles per hour and are efficient burrowers and feel no guilt in heading into another animals abandoned burrow. The picture with this article is of a prairie racerunner found in 2009 living at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Project. Since the six-lined racerunner is thought to live up to six years, there is a chance this little guy is still scurrying around their project site in northwest Indiana! Come on out to Kankakee Sands and see if you can see a six-lined racerunner for yourself!