March 12th, 2012

My life as a lizard dog

Border collie-cross Manu joined her owner, lizard expert Marieke Lettink, at the Denniston BioBlitz on March 2-4 to track down skinks and geckos. Manu reveals how she copes as a canine superstar.

Q: What’s it like being a lizard dog?
A: The best job in the world, I get to run around and search for lizards in beautiful places like the Denniston Plateau. I even get free helicopter rides! All this while my canid cousins are stuck inside all day having to sniff underpants for drugs (no way I’m doing that!) or boring old boxes in the mail centre.

Q: What’s it like being famous?
A: It’s a pain. Lots of boy dogs want to sniff my butt. I’m so not interested – just want to find lizards!

Q: What’s so special about the Denniston Plateau?
A: It has the best smells in the world – you wouldn’t believe what’s hidden away up there! Carnivorous snails, velvet worms, fern birds … things are totally new to science. Unfortunately my human is only interested in lizards, but I still get to smell all sorts of other cool stuff.

Q: why are geckos so hard to find/so few and far between?
A: There are heaps more geckos out there than the humans know about! They are hard to find because geckos have excellent camouflage and like to hide themselves away in tight spaces to avoid being eaten by predators. This fools the humans, but not my nose with its 220 million smell cells (a dog sense of smell is a thousand times better than a human’s). But even my nose doesn’t help in some places – I can’t find geckos in places where there are lots of predators that eat them (cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, possums, rats, mice, and some birds like magpies and kingfishers).

Q: What’s special about the geckos on the Denniston?
A: They smell great and are very beautiful (being an eye dog, I can appreciate their looks). They live in an environment that’s like a bonsai garden – trees like manuka that would normally be over 4 m tall are only 10 cm tall in places. This is great for me because I can’t climb trees (can only search to dog height). And you know what – I haven’t smelt any predators up there yet, so maybe they are safe up there? I can’t even find a hedgehog – my least favourite critter because they vacuum up lizards, roll up when you bark at them, give you a mouth-full of spines when you bite them, carry diseases and can’t be herded. Useless!