Searching for the Mole lizard/Ajolote or simply the most iconic reptile in all of Mexico!

By Carl J. Franklin

In December of 2008 I was contacted by the British production company ICON films UK and asked to assist with the production of an episode of Nick Baker's Weird Creatures.  Nick is a British naturalist with a enthusiastic penchant for the often under celebrated creatures.  Combine this with veteran cameraman Simon Wagen , field herpetologist Victor Velasquez, a talented top notch crew and onscreen expedition success is virtually guaranteed!  Well, at least it was virtually guaranteed.  The production schedule required us to work in January which is not the ideal time to encounter mole lizards in the field.  Nevertheless, we arrived in Baja California Sur and our adventure began.

The desert comes into view just before landing at the international airport in La Paz.  I met with my friend Victor Velasquez the director of El Serpentario de La Paz.

The next day we began searching for Bipes in earnest. 

Seen here are the distinctive trail markings left behind by Bipes.

In every instance where there was an indication of their presence we carefully excavated the soft sandy soil.  Unfortunately these attempts were in vain.

Despite following and inspecting the turned soil left behind heavy machinery there were still no Bipes!

As seen by the trails there were actually lots of Bipes.  The problem was that we were simply in the right places at the wrong times.

Other reptiles such as this brush lizard (Urosaurus nigricaudus) were occasionally encountered during our searches. 

On the third day the crew arrived ready to document the Bipes encounter.  Victor and I are accustomed to having a specimen in hand for documentary crews.  However, we were empty handed after two days of searching all of our hotspots.

 

Then as if on cue with cameras rolling for less than five minutes I encountered this specimen from under a brick!

!

It was such a relief to all of us that one was found and filmed in the field within first 5 minutes!

Not sharing our celebratory sentiments this frightened specimen recoiled into a defensive posture.

With spirits high  I seized the moment and ordered a 'celebration' lunch (on the crew's bill of course)!

We returned to El Serpentario de La Paz and killed some time while preparing for additional shooting.  The serpentarium was opened in 2000 by the late Alan "Abe" Blank.  El Serpentario is a must see location for herpers in the vicinity of  La Paz. 

Some of the outdoor snake exhibits. 

The coastal horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum) is still a somewhat common species along the outskirts of La Paz.

The Santa Catalina Island or rattle-less rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis) is one of the many Mexican rattlesnakes maintained on exhibit.

There are even some rattlesnakes from the United States such as this timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

 

Here's a rare glimpse of an extraordinary cameraman!

 

 

A fine roadside meal for under $4

Don't get between a Brit and his fish tacos con chicharones!

Examining X-rays of Bipes for the presence of vestigal hind limbs.

 

After countless shots of Bipes we decided to go and try our luck at a local canyon for the Central Baja California Banded Rock Lizard (Petrosaurus repens).

I kicked open a dead chunk of cardon cactus and was rewarded with this spectacular male Hunsaker's spiny lizard (Sceloporus hunsakeri)

Given that it was January we considered ourselves luck to encounter this one specimen of the Central Baja California Banded Rock Lizard (Petrosaurus repens)!

 

Leafless branches of the torchwood tree.

A zebra tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)

World class cameraman in action

A cryptic lycosid spider awaiting an encounter with unwary prey.

 

Several San Lucan banded rock lizards were seen scurrying away into inaccessible places in this canyon.

Victor and his niece spotted several specimens that were always just beyond reach or retreated to locations behind the boulders that eluded even the scope of our camera lenses.

Then finally one became visible!  Unfortunately this was the clearest shot I was able to get. 

While banded rock lizards are a definite delight to find in the wild they pale in comparison with the most distinctive and interesting reptile in all of Mexico.  Madagascar has lemurs, China has its pandas and Mexico has its' Bipes.

The front limbs are wide and well developed for moving dirt.  For a video of this reptile click here