Is That Lizard Smiling?

It was a warm summer afternoon, so I was enjoying the air conditioning. July in Kansas can normally get well above 100F in the afternoon. This is when the lake is a prime destination for folks wanting to camp, swim, or boat in Kansas. We don’t have mountains or forrests, but we do have many lakes.

I was hanging out in the visitors center which had a large room with a rather boring collection of displays about the lake and how the dam was built.

Earlier in the spring, I had begun collecting different snakes, lizards, and skinks. I had put several aquariums in the visitors center which is where I kept the small creatures.

I had just finished my college degree in biology with an emphasis in wildlife conservation. My girlfriend at the time was also a biology major, so we had fun hiking around the area, looking under rocks, and collecting the amphibians and reptiles we found.

The aquariums were on tables around the large room where visitors could look at them. I also posted a small sign telling them what was in each display and a little information about their natural history.

None of the animals in the dispalys were poisonous or even aggressive. In fact the biggest problem I had was that they would try to hide. Consequently, you’d end up with some kid getting frustrated and saying “Where’s the lizard?”

On the other hand, they would get real excited when they saw the little creatures with oooh’s and aawww’s, with the occasional giggle and “Cool!”

Many times when I was in the visitor center and someone was looking at the displays, I would open up the aquarium and pull out one of the animals to show the kids and parents. They always seemed to enjoy this little presentation.

On this particular afternoon a young mom with a group of little kids came in to get a map of the lake and campgrounds. The kids immediately began looking in the aquariums and tapping on the glass. I figured this was a great opportunity to give a little ranger talk to the kids.

I pulled out the skink, which caused the kids to step back in fear. I didn’t want them to be scared of it so I started talking ‘baby talk’ to it. I was showing it to the little kids while telling them about it. I’d collected it in one of the campgrounds of Perry Lake. It had been kept in the visitors center where I had been feeding it insects.

The skink has no teeth, but its jaw bone is sharp. It also has a substance in its saliva which slows blood clotting. Most people mistake them for lizards because they look the same.

I held the skink out to the little kids and they squealed in fright. It was very cute.

I was trying to teach them that they didn’t have any reason to fear the skink. They were not an aggressive animal and had no fangs that could hurt you……..or so I thought……

To emphasize how harmless the skink was, I held him up very close to my face and continued to “baby talk” to him. “Nice little skink….Your’re such a good boy….You’d never hurt anyone…..You’re just a little bitty skink….Such a good boy….You’d never hurt anyone!….”

Slowly I moved him closer to my mouth as I talked to him. I didn’t think anything about it because I’d done it many times before. The little girls stood there in amazement at the big Park Ranger and how brave he was. He could hold that “Icky” lizard-looking creature and nothing happened……………..

But then……………..


the skink lunged at my face and caught me on the bottom lip. I didn’t know what to do!!! He just hung there!!! It seemed like forever while he dangled there attached to my bottom lip. He then fell to the floor and crawled quickly away.

I just stood there in disbelief, not quite sure of what had just happened. I was completely stunned by his sudden leap from my hand and bite into my face.

Suddenly there was complete pandamonium!……A crazed lizard had just attacked the park ranger!…..Run for your life!!!!”….Eeeeeeeeaaaaaakkkkkk!!!!…..

The little girls were squealing and screaming as they ran around the room. No one knew where the vicious beast had gone to. He’d finally dropped to the floor and no one knew where he’d gone!!!!………..Yyyyyyyiiiiiikkkkkeeeesssss……….. Ruuuuuuunnnnnnnnn!!!!!!………….

After getting past the shock of being bit, I urgently began looking around the visitor center and eventually spotted the beast along a wall. I quickly grabbed the “man-eater” and put him back into his aquarium.

I told the girls that all was well and that they could calm down. Everything was just fine. Everyone just settle down. I had to take a few seconds to let my heart rate begin to slow a bit. After all, I couldn’t let them see that this was my first attack by a skink. Inside I wanted to say lots of colorful words, but I had to act cool……

After several seconds of mayhem they settled down and came back over to me.

But then…………

As they stood there I could see their eyes getting bigger and bigger and their mouths sort of dropped open in complete shock and dismay. One of them held her hand over her mouth and pointed at my face.

The lizard hurt you! One of the girls yelled. Then they pointed at me and screamed, “You’re Bleeding!!”…Eeeeeeeaaaaaakkkkkk!!!…..

I looked down and there was blood dripping off the bottom of my chin and was all over my uniform shirt. I put my hand up to my lip and it was covered by blood that was gushing from my lip. I looked like someone had hit me in the mouth with a baseball bat and I was now bleeding profusely.

It was complete panic and confusion all over again! The girls were screeching in voices so high that only a dog could hear them. The blood was proof that they were all going to die!

The blood was quickly dripping off my chin and onto my uniform shirt where it was forming a large bloody stain. It was dripping onto my pants and onto my boots and the carpet. It was a real mess.

You could just see the wheels turning as they tried to wrap their heads around what had just happened. Now there was blood involved. The complete pandamonium of several little girls screaming, talking, and frantically moving away from the blood took over.

The little girls started screaming and running around. Their mother looked at me with a very distraught look and weakly said “Thank you for the tour.” She’d brought her group of little girls in to get a map for the campgrounds. What she ended up with was a blood-soaked Park Ranger and his ‘ATTACK LIZARD’.

The lady with the girls was a good sport, though still a little dazed. She gathered the kids up and led the group out the door as they excitedly chattered about the incident. I’m sure they still remember the Park Ranger who was attacked by the lizard. The lady told the girls as they walked out, “Come on girls lets leave the nice Park Ranger alone. He needs to take care of his lizard.”

I got paper towels soaked in cold water, but it still took a while for the bleeding to stop. I was happy it stopped, because I wasn’t looking forward to telling a doctor why I was bleeding from the lip. I caught enough grief from the Park Manager and other rangers, who all took great delight in my mishap.

Of course, according to that old story, the Ranger was bit by a ferocious lizard. Whereupon, after many hours of pain and suffering…….. the lizard finally died.

Published by John Purvis

I was born and raised in Kansas as part of a family of 7 children. My father was a minister in the United Methodist Church for 50 years. We moved, consequently, every few years to a new church. Each new location became a new chapter in the journey. I have had the privilege of knowing so many different people from varying backgrounds. I wanted to share some of the stories and adventures I have had.

15 thoughts on “Is That Lizard Smiling?

  1. That’s quite a story – one for the books as they say. When we lived in Florida, our cat loved to play with the lizards. She was often left with the detached tail and the lizard escaped easily. One day, however, she got hold of a lively lizard that did not care for her antics. I heard a painful meow from the pool deck and there she was with a lizard dangling from her bottom lip. All the shaking of her head did nothing until the lizard decided to let go. We get the skinks with bright blue tails here all the time. They don’t bug me unless they make their way into the house, then it’s game on.

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    1. Well at least the cat will back me up about one going for your lip. In school they never mentioned the possibility of him trying to get me. I think it was my payback for showing off in front of those kids. I’m glad you enjoyed it and commented, Maggie! Thank you! John

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    1. I think I learned the hard way to keep the animals away from my face, the hard way. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

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  2. Hahaha…being a little over confident were we? I hate when a simple demo goes south. Especially when you’re the victim.

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