DEAR JOAN: For the past couple of years we have had a number of little lizards living in our yard. Last winter was much colder than the few before it, and I have not seen the lizards since the weather has warmed. Do you think they survived and will return soon?
They seem to have really kept the little Argentine ants in check, as we used to have ants invading our house periodically but have not had this problem since the lizards took up residence.
On another note, I keep a hummingbird feeder filled with a mixture of sugar and water. Is it OK to substitute light agave syrup for some of the sugar? The hummers drink an 8-ounce capacity feeder about every three days.
DEAR ANCILLA: Your little lizard friends are Western fence lizards, quite common in California. They range in color from almost black to sandy brown. Their most distinguishing feature, however, is a bright blue belly. Juveniles and females may only have a blush of blue, or none at all.
The lizards hibernate in winter, so if something has happened to them, it wasn't the coldness of the weather. You should be seeing them by now. In the past week I've started seeing them in my neighborhood, much to the delight of my Chihuahua, who loves to chase them. But if you or a neighbor have been heavy-handed with pesticides
The lizards come out into the sun to warm themselves, which makes them easy prey for birds, snakes and any predator that is not my dog. They start breeding in the spring, and the eggs hatch in August. Then you should see lots of tiny lizards running around.
They do eat insects, but you would need a large herd of lizards to control those Argentine ants. One of my Master Gardener friends insists the entire state of California rests on a single giant ant colony.
The lizards do their best at keeping the bugs in check, however, and should be encouraged to take up residence in our gardens. You might want to create small habitat areas for them with flat rocks and broken pots for them hide beneath.
As for the agave syrup, there is some debate on its safety. If you do use it, use organic agave nectar that is free of synthetic pesticides. Follow the same formula as for the sugar and water. Add the nectar to the boiling water and stir well, then remove from the heat.
If you are looking to adopt a bunny -- as a pet and not an Easter basket accessory -- then be sure to visit the Hayward Animal Shelter, 16 Barnes Court, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 16.
The shelter has lots of bunnies, all available for a $50 adoption fee, which includes the cost of neutering. Bunnies do make good pets, and they require the same care and attention as any other animal companion.
The Bunny Hop adoption even is sponsored by the Hayward Animal Shelter Volunteers, Bananas for Bunnies, Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Haven, Save a Bunny and the Tri-City Animal Shelter.
If you already have a bunny, you can bring him or her by for free nail trims, and if you're looking to add another rabbit to your home, you can arrange a meet-and-greet to see how the rabbits will get along.
Your bunny must be spayed or neutered, however, so this is no love connection.
For details, call the Hayward Animal Shelter at 510-293-7200.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.