By Paul Wolterbeck
Casa Grande desert ecology educator Phil Rakoci has been known to pull a Chuckwalla out of his baggy cargo pants pocket – prompting the lizard to gulp air and puff up like a blowfish and instantly rallying his audience’s attention for a wider lesson about Sonoran Desert lizards.
He’s also known for talking nonchalantly with an ornate tree lizard that’s securely clamped to one of his earlobes, and for extolling the finer points of horned lizards, scorpions and rattlesnakes. Rakoci, the summertime tour guide for the once monthly “Learn Your Lizards” guided walks at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, is “Wild Man Phil” to friends and followers. He brings his collection of native critters and exotic pets to schools, libraries and RV parks (private birthday parties, too, by appointment) to educate Arizonans about desert animals and spread his love of the ones best adapted to eke a living from this parched land.
“What do I bring to a typical show in the Phoenix or Tucson area? The fun stuff, creepy crawlies — scorpions, maybe a centipede and spider, lizards, turtles, snakes —mostly native critters, but some exotics to compare, too,” Rakoci says. “Highlights are usually my emperor scorpion, tarantula, kingsnake, coachwhip, or the 14-foot python. Other options include a chameleon, chuckwalla, horned lizard, gecko, collared lizard and, of course, our 45-pound celebrity: ‘Stumpy, the Tortoise with a Wheel,’ who is probably the only Desert Tortoise in Arizona who has his own Facebook page.”
Rakoci guides “Learn Your Lizards” walks at Boyce Thompson Arboretum on August 14 and September 11. Libraries, schools, RV parks or others interested in booking Rakoci for a private presentation can read more and find contact information at http://www.wildmanphil.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Phil Rakoci at 520-510-9500.
— Paul Wolterbeck is the volunteer programs coordinator at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, http://arboretum.ag.arizona.edu.