Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Spring Lizards

My life in appalachia - Spring Lizards

Did you ever catch a spring lizard? Back in the day, if us kids were playing in the creek we always looked for spring lizards. Even now I can’t stop at a creek without turning over a few rocks just to see if I can find one.

I was always good at catching them. You’ve got to be quick and not too scared of sticking your hands under rocks and mossy creek banks. Both the girls inherited the trait from me, not sure what good it will do them in the long run, but it’s provided much entertainment in their childhood creek days.

Years ago it was fairly common for kids from Wilson Holler to make a few extra bucks by catching spring lizards to sell. They make dandy fishing lures. I believe its illegal to catch spring lizards today. I’m hoping one of you will tell me I’m wrong.

Just like everything else, the spring lizards farther up the creek were bigger-faster-and wilder. I guess its like Pap says, once you get out of the settlement of people things are different in this ole world.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    Bobby C
    May 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Tipper, you must have been followin’ us around! Just Sunday, we were picnic’n at the entrance to Cades Cove when my son Noah tried catchin’ a spring lizard. I wondered the same thing about whether or not it was illegal.
    Did you ever see any mud puppies or mud dogs some folks call them? I remember some of those when I was a kid chasing spring lizards. They were big enough to scare you!

  • Reply
    May 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Saw two outside in the yard just today. I never go after them because I know it makes them scared and stresses them because they think you’re gonna eat ’em. In fact, I have several novelty frog and lizard houses in among the plants in the yard so they have somewhere to hide if an animal or someone does go by and scares them.
    Wouldn’t use them for bait when Walmart sells perfectly good imitation jelly lizards just for that purpose. But that’s just me.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Glenda-we do run into snakes! They don’t bother me much. I’m always teasing the girls telling them they better watch out it might be a hoop snake and chase after us : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 2, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Tipper–I’m late in posting, thanks to turkey hunting travels, but this one went right to the heart of my boyhood. Don is right in mentioning all sorts of restrictions. The local bait shop in Bryson City won’t fool with them anymore because of that. Like Ken, they were a moneymaker for me as a kid. A big red one brought a nickel, while lesser brown ones brought three cents. Money aside, catching them was a passel of fun, and recollections of doing so has provided me with fodder for several magazine articles over the years.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    May 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Yes we caught them in the creek and the little branch that run down in front of the house.. we did sell them.Didn’t get much for them but e felt like we were

  • Reply
    S Kalvaitis
    May 1, 2012 at 10:43 am

    We used to catch those in the creek when I was a kid. But we called them water dogs. I never heard them called spring lizards. Thanks once again for reminding me.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    April 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Those things give me the hibby jibbers when I look at them. I never liked crawly things.
    Tonight I was talking to a mountain woman from Jackson county and we talked snakes. Tipper, do you and the girls ever run into snakes on your outings in the woods and creeks?

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    We call them salamanders in Ohio. They are hard to catch; then too, I was always afraid to hang on too hard, lest I squash one!

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I used to be pretty good at catching lizards for bait, too.
    I agree with Pap!

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Some of my best childhood memories
    are about catchin’ lizzards. In my
    homeplace at Topton almost every
    hollar has a branch or two coming
    out of those mountains. Catching
    and sellin’ lizzards was the most
    common way to make money for a boy
    who liked to fish as much as me and my brothers. As a youngin’, I
    use to lay down on our bridge and
    using a straight pin bent like a
    “U” with a red worm on it, tied to
    a stick with sewing thread, catch
    lizzards like crazy.
    After I became a teenager, I used
    a car antenna that you could
    extend for a longer reach, and go
    fishin’ for lizzards at night
    using a flashlite. I’d wrap a stiff wire around the small end of
    the antenna and bend the end like
    a hook, thread about half of a
    nightcrawler and I was good for
    several catchin’s. The big rocks
    that nobody could turn was just
    a bounty for them main ole big
    ones. And you could have a field
    day when you got to some falls.
    Those little beady eyes were just a peepin’ from about every crevice. One night, along with a
    second cousin, I caught a huge
    watersnake this way. About the
    time I got him near our feet so
    we could stomp him, the
    bloomin’ flashlite went out…I
    still got places on my chins from
    all that kickin’ and stompin’.
    And by the time we got the light
    back on, one of us had kicked over
    the bucket and lost most of our
    lizzards. I ain’t got no idea
    where that snake went…Ken

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 30, 2012 at 11:46 am

    and Don…ain’t that the most beautiful picture…I could just drink that water…”Dusky” spring lizard pee, crawdad poop and all… a little decomposing leaf litter…That’s what makes mountain people strong…LOL
    Thanks for sharing…PS…Catching two at a time is hard to do as one of them will shorely slither thru yore ring and littlefingers, while the other’n is ‘tween yore thumb, palm and forefinger…LOL Give that mountaineer a star!!!

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    April 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Don’t have any problems with pests eating my flowers or roses. I have a couple of hundred various lizards, ghekos, and chameleons living in my flower beds.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 30, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I always thought they were called spring lizards because they knew which springs had good water. There was some biggins in our spring. Daddy wouldn’t let us catch them out of the spring because we would tear it up and he would have to fix it back. We tried fishin for them with no luck.
    It’s a different story in the steams and branches of the Wiggins Creek and Needmore areas. We left no stone unturned for miles in every direction. We faced stiff competition though from adults in the area who were professional lizard hunters. Their sole means of support was the sale of home brew, ginseng(sang)and spring lizards.
    Lizards were graded out into small, medium and large. Small was shorter than your hand. Medium was the same length as your hand. Large was longer than your hand. One of the most difficult parts of lizard huntin’ was getting them to lie still while you measured them.
    When it came time to sell them it was the buyers hand that measured them so the size of your fortune decreased drastically. Red puppies were uncommon but highly sought after by fisherman. They were more likely to be found away from water. We found some when we plowed. They were just there in the ground. Every Red Puppy counted as a large lizard so they were our guaranteed income.
    I don’t know if it is illegal to buy and sell lizards now but I can imagine a black market for them with the Federal government putting a tax on them and arresting people for possession and marketing of endangered amphibians. Or counterfeit lizards. People could be catching geckos and skinks in Mexico, painting them up to look like lizards and smuggling them across the border.
    I really don’t think lizards are endangered because it’s the dumb ones that get caught. The smart ones can sense a hunter on the way and be well hidden when he gets there. Therefore the gene pool for the more intelligent ones is increasing and they are getting better and better able to evade capture. Being that the average lizard is now smarter than the scientists who study them, they have been declared in danger of extinction.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

    As a former spring lizard catcher and fisher of thus….The fact you stated about them being (maybe) illegal to catch and keep got my curosity up..
    So I checked with the TWRA here in Tennessee and shore enough the only spring lizard allowed to be caught, sold and purchased is the “dusky salamander” (spring lizard by some) which I believe your child is holding…That’s about the only one we could catch to fish with..My husband and kids would regularly make a trip to the spring before a long day of spring fishing..for some lizards…Put some moss in the minnow bucket, a tiny bit of moisture, some lizards and off you go…We never caught many as they are hard to keep alive in the heat even with moss, moisture etc..Now then, that said, I could never ever put one on the hook…My husband had to do it…In fact unless I caught a big fish with one, I usally reverted back to worms or minnows..
    The others that we used to catch when we were kids, were all orange, black with orange spots and an occasional like yellowish..honestly this was fun and catch and release…I understand that you have to have a scientific permit to catch and hold any other spring lizards..beside sides the dusky
    one….There’s nothing like turning a wet round rock over, with the stream flowing around and over it, the other hand ready to pounce, when your hand stops in mid-pounce fingers touching the cold water just before you grab the biggest Craw-dad you ever did see…It sure sends your heart to racing as it skids backwards away and between your barefeet in the water…LOL
    Then when your heart slows a little, on to the next rock with caution..LOL
    Thanks for the memories Tipper,

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 30, 2012 at 9:35 am

    When I was a kid, if there was a creek, I was in it and catching anything I could get my hands on. The same was true of the Deer Hunter. He once caught a big snapping turtle. By big I mean 12 to 14 inches across. He brought it home carrying it by the tail. He put it down in the yard and that thing attacked. It went for the people first with jaws snapping. We got a 2 by 4 about three feet long to keep him away from us. He started biting big chunks out of the wood. I finally told the Deer Hunter to take that mean thing back where he found it and leave it there. He did but let me tell you that was scary.
    I really think that kids who grow up with the earth have a different sense of the world.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 30, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I believe what you’re thinking, Tipper, is that it is illegal to sell protected species of spring lizards. I imagine the bureaucratic red tape is mighty thick. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no prohibition on catching your own.
    This past Saturday, Miz Susan and I walked down the Noland Divide Trail. It passes by a very fine, high elevation (above 4600 ft) spring on the south face of Coburn Knob. It was formerly called Cold Spring Knob by locals for this very spring, but named Coburn Knob by the park’s nomenclature commission. If it weren’t for the fact that I think highly of Jack Coburn (who is buried alongside his wife, Bland, on Schoolhouse Hill), I’d still call it Cold Spring Knob.
    I had started to fill up our water bottles when I noticed a couple of spring lizards – tiny little fellers – and took a picture. It’s at the link below. The light colored thread that the smaller one is under is the spine of an oak leaf. The larger one was about two inches long. I saw about ten of them in this spring, and none were bigger than that.
    I tried for a two-fer grab (which I’ve done before) and ended up with a handful of gravel and skinned knuckles. Have any of the readers ever gotten more than two at a grab?
    After I filled up our bottles with water from the spring, Susan took a big swig and agreed with me that it was really cold and really good water.
    That was before I told her what made it good was spring lizard pee;-)

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 30, 2012 at 8:54 am

    I have caught a lot of them. It was one of Dad’s favorite baits. The other being the catawpa worm or as we say the tobby worm.
    I know here in Ga you can use spring lizard which are really salamanders because they are amphibians. I think you are ok to catch them in NC too.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    April 30, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I don’t know about the law, but I will skip catching any kind of creepy crawly. Reptiles are not my forte. I learned early on when I was teaching third grade silly things that can happen when demonstrating lizards to my class and I had a long sleeve blouse on. Use your imagination as to what happened to me! The kids were laughing at their teacher and the student who brought it into school, well he brought a snapping turtle the next time. I was a first year teacher and, well, I had a lot to learn.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 30, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I haven’t thought about spring lizards and how much fun it was to catch them! That was a favorite thing for my brother Bluford and me to do when we were young! We were good at inventing our own entertainment, as we didn’t have but a very few bought toys and no gadgets (as today). But I can never remember our being bored or lacking interesting things to do. How grateful I am for country raising and simple pleasures. Thanks for reminding us–day by day. I’m glad Chitter and Chatter enjoy the same things. As I have opportunity to be with them, I’m introducing my great grandkids (numbering 7 now!) to the wonders of backyard exploration. Sorry I don’t have a stream in it or we’d look for spring lizards!

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    April 30, 2012 at 7:59 am

    I don’t know if it’s illegal to catch those little suckers or not, but when my boys were young, it was always fun to catch them and play with them awhile before letting them loose and see where they’d head to next.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 30, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I remember catching spring lizards, crawdads, and anything else I could find in the creek when I was a kid. Now here in South Florida, we don’t have any water lizards that I have ever seen, but we have an abundance of what are called chameleons (not true chameleons with long, sticky tongues) and skinks, which are larger. They are everywhere and I hardly ever go outside without seeing them. We also have Iguanas that were purchased as pets and either were released or escaped to the wild and have become a nuisance. They thrive in these tropical climates.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 7:42 am

    We called those things salamanders in my neck of the woods: East Tennessee. Can’t tell you how many of those things I caught down by the spring in a nearby field, along with tadpoles by the JFG Coffee can full, and snapping turtles, too

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 6:31 am

    looks a lot different than our lizards, ours that live in the back yard, some of them have names. Leon, Lizzie and Leonard. i love them. last night i went to close the bedroom blinds and there was one trapped between the glass and the screen, i sent the big guy out to free it and he did. we love our lizards

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