This word I like... We architect our life...
A song, a sigh... developing words that linger...
Through fields of green, through open eyes... It's for us to see.
Interanimate: To animate or inspire mutually

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why the Lizard Does Push-Ups

...but more on the lizard later. First, the topical post.

August 13 I probably had my last bloodletting. Another pint of blood drained and discarded. This should bring my ferritin level down to the normal range. My next appointment at Scripps Clinic is with Doctor Andrey in 2 months. At that time we'll decide if I need 1 more phlebotomy.
In my 2 years of MDS, including the 4 weeks of hospitalization I took in around 50 pints of the red stuff from donors; just to keep me alive. In the last year, starting a few months after my transplant, I've discarded perhaps 30 pints of my own blood; just to get rid of the excess iron from the transfused blood. Interesting. My days as a human pin cushion are coming to an end. On this visit, there was a problem with my left arm vein. It was not productive, so the nurse had to stick my right arm. It was kinda like blood prospecting. First, lidocaine was injected with a tiny needle, producing a quick burning; followed by numbness. Soon followed a big needle into which the blood must freely flow from my body. The lidocaine shot into my left arm was the last from it's vial. I didn't feel the burn. The burn is actually a sensation to be welcomed because it means the wild antics from the big needle's insertion will not be felt. Turns out that last of the lidocaine in a vial is weak. On this day, the big needle was felt. My right arm got a squirt of the first lidocaine from a new vial. The small needle's drug burn was quick and shot up my arm a couple inches. Then it was out and the pain was gone. When the big needle came, it did not hurt.

Here's my perspective: An interesting end to what was once a perfectly choreographed string of phlebotomies.

Warning, there are images and an video in this post that may not be available in the email format. Please see the original post at

Here's one thing about the Western Fence Lizard. They are cute little guys. Way too cute to be feared. Over the years I'm sure everyone has seen them masquerading as dinosaurs in front of very small cameras. Take the 1966 movie "One Million Years B.C." for example. This movie had Raquel Welch running in terror from the little slip slips. I've included a photo of the movie poster and a photo of 2 lizard 'extras' pretending to fight. The lead dinosaur in this movie was a Western Fence Lizard who was deemed 'not terrifying' enough for the trailer shots. Despite their less-than-hostile appearance, the WFLs were very good actors and took their art seriously. In the 50s and 60s, many of them started doing standard calisthenics with the hopes of developing a more menacing appearance. None of the lizard actors actually got paid well. An occasional exotic fly was put into their terrarium between sets, a hot rock to sleep on at night. They had no tiny gym equipment available in their tight quarters so they did jumping jacks and push-ups. That explains the push-up way back then. Raquel got older and became a dinosaur herself while acting in another 1 million movies and tv episodes. Movie directors got tired of cleaning lizard cages. Animation technologies improved. The lizards retired from acting.

Here is the other thing about the WFL, and is also true for many small Lizards. Millions of them across the America still do pushups; on rocks, on dirt, on fences, everywhere. It turns out they've been doing push-ups for millions of years. For those of you who have never seen this amazing stunt, see the attached video. If you sneak up upon a lizard, you may often see it doing quick push-ups. These aren't sissy push-ups. These are military style push-ups. From a prone position to a quick jerk upwards with their heads at attention. Once in a while you may see the more buff lizards doing the one handed push-up. Very rare.

Scientists have debated the cause for lizard push-up behavior for decades. It seems the consensus is that push-ups are some kind of lizard language/display/mating behavior. This article gets very scientific with a study on different push-ups and what they all mean. Do NOT attempt to read that article. If you think my little dissertation is putting you to sleep... Well, I'm here to say 'BUNK' to the common theories. No, I'm not going to say they are trying to buff up any more. Those days are gone. And they know it.
I've been studying lizards for years. By 'studying', I mean that I've momentarily observed and marveled about their behavior several times since I was, like 7 years old. My recently developed push-up theory is so simple I don't know how it could have been missed by the scientific community.

Many small animals have side facing eyes. This is a great advantage when you are small and tasty. You get an advantage of a nearly 300 degree field of vision. With this kind of perspective you are not so easily duped by predators sneaking up behind you. Predators, like humans, cats, dogs, eagles, falcons, owls, etc, have forward facing eyes. This is a great advantage when you are trying to sneak up on small tasty animals. You get stereo vision with 2 eyes looking the same direction. Each eye sends a simultaneous, separate picture to the brain. The brain merges the pictures together to make a 3D image of the prey. This gives you a great advantage when it comes to the chase. You can see depth, the distance between you and your dinner. The animal with side facing eyes has little if no, 3D vision. The lizard can see more objects around it but it cannot sense the object's distance.

The poor, lowly lizard. Who cares? As you know, reptiles are amongst the oldest land animals on the planet. They were once pretty big. They once ruled the earth. When things changed the big ones didnt do so well. The smaller reptiles who could hide in the earth survived a long period of harsh conditions. When they emerged, they had competition; they became the hunted. I like to think of the common fence lizards as One Lizard. One Lizard, with it's body comprised of millions upon millions of independently operated franchises. Kinda like Starbucks. There is one in every corner... of your back yard. After all, the same (almost exact) DNA exists in each and every lizard. They are part and parcel of the One Lizard. To survive over millions of years, the One Lizard had to adapt to changing conditions. But the change could only come from the bottom up, from the feet on the ground. The One Falcon and the One Bobcat, amongst others, were always trying to make life impossible for the One Lizard, by eating him. The Falcon and the Bobcats were getting smaller and faster. The One Lizard was caught in an evolutionary vice. The One Lizard was in deep doo-doo. The Falcons and the Cat were pretty happy cuz the Lizard was easy to catch. All too often, the tasty little reptiles just sat on the rock and didn't make a move to escape...until it was too late.

Here's what I think happened.

Hundred of thousands of years ago one female lizard laid some eggs that had a genetic mutation. The DNA in her eggs had a slight flaw from the normal. Mutations have always been common when cells divide. The copying process is prone to errors. Almost 100% of the time, the errors result in nothing. The new cell, the egg, dies. Once in a great while a mutation survives. Of the mutations that slip by, almost 100% result in slight changes to the lizard that do nothing to help the lizard survive. It gets an extra toe. It gets a slightly longer tail. The mutation neither helps nor hinders the lizard, so the expressed trait eventually disappears.

The mutation on this long ago day slipped by and became expressed. The eggs hatched. The new lizards emerged to face the hostile world. This batch of lizards looked no different from their hundreds of siblings or cousins. All toes accounted for. Same lizard odor. Same lizard size and shape. But something changed in the brain. These sisters and brother lizards had a brain that was able to perform a new trick. None of them knew they were different from the rest of their once huge family. Most of their hundred of brothers and sisters were already gone. In many cases, without ever having laid an egg or tasting their first fly, the siblings were eaten by birds or cats. Only by multiplying in vast numbers had the One Lizard been able to survive over the countless millenniums. Most of this special brood of lizards survived to lay their own eggs, thousands of them. All eggs carried the same genetic mutation. Over time the mutation became part of the One Lizard.

What the One Lizard learned starting with those first few franchises was amazing. It learned how to artificially create stereoscopic vision like that of it's predators; by doing simple push-ups. An image of it's surroundings is taken at ground level, and a second image is quickly taken at the top of a push-up. The 2 perspectives from each eye are sent to the brain and the brain returns the concept of depth, in a nearly 300 degree field of view! The Lizard knows how far away an object is located, how fast the object is moving, and in which direction. Birds and Cats now have a really hard time sneaking up on a lizard.

In short, the Lizard does push-ups to get a new perspective.