How Do You Miss A Pink Iguana?

Kage Baker was fascinated with cryptids. Those are things – usually animals, sometimes people or plants – who are mythical: but who very well might be real. There are a respectable number of beasties presumed to be totally legendary, who have eventually turned out to be quite real, alive and in the best of health.

One of the most famous is the coelocanth. This is a big, nasty-tasting fish loudly presumed to have died out some time before the dinosaurs – but which was found alive and well in the Indian Ocean in 1938. It is the exemplar of the living fossil. Kage was especially fond of it because we learned the story in grade school, and she was wildly intrigued. And to make it even more interesting, a second population of the fish was found only a few years ago off the Sumatra coast: so these fellows have not only not been extinct, they have been doing very well indeed over the years.

Lots of small beasties are misplaced, misidentified and then found again: small plants and fungi, little birds distinguishable from other little birds only by the curve of their beaks, frogs and newts and salamanders confined in small, weird ecosystems like lost caves and the cups of bromeliad flowers … it’s easy to see how that happens. When you are a tiny frog who lives its life inside a big flower 200 feet up a tree in an Amazon jungle, small wonder you don’t make the cover of National Geographic very often! Kage was nonetheless interested in these critters, because any lost-then-found animal was an obvious Company project.

Also, she just liked cryptids. The idea that someone once saw an animal so odd that it’s been assumed to a product of bad wine for 1,000 years – until it gets shipped to a biologist in London – just amused the hell out of her. And a lot of the animals so described, traduced and then re-discovered have been good-sized animals, too; things that had no business being overlooked in a local bromeliad … Okapi. Gorillas. Kouprey. Pink dolphins, giant squid and komodo dragons. All of them were fairly recently promoted from legends to live animals.

Kage was pleased to see large new mammals and birds being found, but she didn’t like lizards. She wasn’t fond of reptiles anyway, and komodos quite repulsed her. Monitor lizards (which is what they are) do not have much in the way of warm fuzzy vibes, and komodos are especially voracious and dispassionate predators. They still eat quite a few Indonesians natives  and tourists visiting their rocky island home; especially since the Indonesian Islamic governments have been discouraging the fishermen from sacrificing goats to them – turns out sacrificing goats to the local monitor lizards can have real, practical uses in the modern world …

It’s been a good couple of years for monitor lizards, though. Several quite large species have been found and described for the first time. One of them is even rather gaudy, being bright  pink; indigenous to the Galapagos, it was somehow overlooked by Charles Darwin on his famous trip, and not found until 2009. (Kage, when she learned of it, was amused – although she said that she thought the world had enough big lizards, and if we had to have another, couldn’t we have traded the salt-water crocodile for it?) In 2010, a fruit-eating monitor lizard was found in the Phillippines – very unusual, most monitor lizards being carnivorous. Both these creatures were literally human-sized, and yet no one had known they were there until the last two years.

It’s conceivable that only the locals knew about the frugiverous monitor lizard; despite being 5 to 6 feet long, it also lives in the tops of trees. Still – a lizard the size of a man, that lives in the trees? You’d think someone would have remarked on that. And while the Galapagos Islands are indeed very isolated, it’s still amazing that a 4-foot long, bright pink lizard went unnoticed until the end of the 20th century.

On the other hand, no one was entirely sure that Pygmies existed until the 19th century – and they are human beings, who hunt and trade with other people. Small wonder we missed the gorillas; small wonder we continued to miss the 125,000 lowland gorillas only found in the Congo in 2008.

They all went on to Kage’s lists, her roster of the found, re-discovered or never-before-seen. I’m still keeping the lists, because it’s such a marvelous roster of life. And it’s always fun to assign an Operative to the diverse projects, too. Obviously, Nefer had a hand with the Vietnamese forest ox – but who got to wrangle the big pink iguana?

I haven’t decided yet.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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22 Responses to How Do You Miss A Pink Iguana?

  1. Margaret says:

    So it’s definitely not a regular iguana with a terrible sunburn that it got while lurking behind a rock in the sun, waiting for the tourists to get off its favorite rock patch, while muttering “Stupid !#*!!?*! gringos”?


  2. Tom says:

    “Who got to wrangle the big pink iguana?”
    Kalugin, of course, and much to his chagrin.


  3. Valerie says:

    Lewis, working outside of his field, of course! (The other animal ops were herding coelocanths to Sumatra right then…)


  4. athene says:

    Coelocanths were also of particular interest to me. I thought that B&W photo of the thing (that was in every book) was repulsive and fascinating. I almost had Chuck design me a coelocanth T-shirt when that school turned up. I’ll probably have coelocanth nightmares tonight…


  5. Kate says:

    Athene – look for a colour photo of the coelocanth. They are actually beautifully coloured. I did a whole display on them in the 4th grade …

    Tom – no, I think Kalugin might have been involved with the coelocanth, but not the pink iguana. It’s not a marine iguana, after all.

    Val – but isn’t it funny how Lewis is just the man one thinks of in connection with anything as weird as pink iguanas? He just handles the absurd so well. Dear Lewis turned out to probably be nearly everyone’s favourite character.


  6. Tom says:

    Kate, he is chagrinned for exactly that reason – not a marine reptile, and *pink.*

    But I kind of agree with Valerie, too; there’s (cue Edie Adams voiceover) Something About a Pink Iguana that suggests Lewis and Joseph on a theobromos bender.


  7. Kate says:

    Yeah, Tom – that would be funny with poor Kalugin. And it’s not only large and pink, the thing is pretty ugly. But somehow neat, fastidious, romantic Lewis is the natural foil for the Pink Iguana. I wouldn’t trust Joseph not to just hit it over the head with a shovel and tip it into a ditch …


    • Valerie says:

      It was a mistake, though. He released it too early, but it got into the historical record and they had to let it stay. The big-plotting-cyborg-guy was furious, but nobody ever tells Lewis anything. He thought he performed splendidly, for a literature specialist with no experience in exotic fauna…


  8. Kara says:

    “Dear Lewis turned out to probably be nearly everyone’s favourite character.”

    I’m a huge fan of Lewis, poor romantic sap that he is, and was always sorry he never got a girl, let alone /the/ girl. I found it hilarious that we have this literary specialist cyborg writing bad fanfiction.


    • Kate says:

      Kara – Kage had so much fun writing Lewis’ fanfic. She snickered through the whole thing – she’d read bits of it out to me and we’d laugh until neither one of us could breathe straight, and the parrot was shrieking in accompaniment. She said she sort of wished she could write the whole thing out and submit it under a pseudonym – but she was afraid someone would buy it, and she didn’t want to know if anyone was willing to publish something that bad.


    • Kate says:

      Neassa – several shades of pink, no less! It looks like an iguana designed by an 8-year old girl.


      • Medrith says:

        I kind of think, unless the color is off on the spots, it wasn’t designed by the 8-year-old girl. The spots look gray to me, and that would never do for my many, many grandnieces. Purple spots, that would be the thing. I have sent a link to my dinosaur-buff grandson, age 10, and look forward to his reaction.


  9. mary lynn says:

    oh, dear…i don’t know where my head is this evening, but I think it looks like an iguana with mange.


  10. Kate says:

    Mary Lynn – yes, but *pink* mange! Besides, even without the benefits of mange, iguanas are not exactly winsome.


  11. Alex says:

    Just one correction. Frugiferous = fruit carrying/bearing. Frugivorous = fruit eating. (:


  12. Mark Shanks says:

    Pink Iguanas? That’s right up there with the discovery of bioluminescent mushrooms.
    Maybe it *wasn’t* the drugs that led to all those glow-in-the-dark mushroom posters of the late 60s and 70s…. Or should I say, wasn’t *just* the drugs?


  13. Trapunto says:

    This makes me excited about the stories you’re going to tell!


  14. Tom says:

    Should I ever open a tavern in tropical climes, I now know what to name it.


    • Kate says:

      “The Pink Iguana” – great name for a bar, Tom.

      Kage once designed a thematic hostelry/retirement home for re-enactors called The Casa Mombasa. It was meant to be a big tropical hotel, from the Victorian/Edwardian eras – decayed gentlemen in tropical whites, ladies of negotiable virtue taking their holidays, remittance men in all flavours. Hammocks everywhere. Parrots, and pitchers of gin and tonics on every nightstand … and she and I as the proprietesses, waiting on the long roofed porch with hurricane lamps in our hands for the late inter-island boat to bring the latest batch of world-weary travelers.


  15. Kate says:

    Medrith – well, you’re right there – an 8-year old would have picked purple as the contrasting colour. Do let me know what your nephew thinks – I always like encouraging the youngsters to discover what really weird things actually live in our world. Their observations are fresher than ours.


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