I remember as a schoolboy being tickled by someone’s suggestion that if the wings were pulled off a fly it would thereafter be known as a ‘walk’.
Other creatures of course have names with alternative uses - duck as in ‘keep your head down’, bat is what cricketers and baseballers do, bear is to put up with something, and swallow is what happens after you chew.
Such deep philosophical issues came to mind the other day when dear wife asked me (screamed) to deal with a snake under the front doormat.
Now a snake is a snake – no double meanings there.
Armed with my patented snake deterrent, a metre or so of chain attached to a solid length of wood that allows you to take some defensive swings as you retreat from an oncoming dangerous reptile, I prepared for action.
Carefully lifting the doormat I eyed my adversary.
He or she was a bit under 30cm long, light brown, and coiled up in defence.
Except it wasn’t a snake.
With a strange pointed head and a faint row of small dots down each side, it turns out our house guest was a legless lizard.
What a strange term. I would have thought a reptile without legs could only be one thing – a snake.
But no, Burton’s Legless Lizard (that’s what ours was so we christened him Burt) and his 40 or so Australian cousins have shorter bodies than snakes,longer tails, eyelids (with eyelashes, perhaps), and external ears.
All of which presupposes the first sighting doesn’t make you nervous and you have the time and inclination to do a close inspection.
Burt’s party trick, which we fortunately did not witness, is his ability to drop his tail if attacked.
That makes quite a difference to his stature in life, because the tail can make up three quarters of his body - it grows back though.
Lizard-wise there are other strange things happening in the garden.
According to a Sydney University study, hotter temperatures are playing havoc with the gender of bearded dragon lizards.
Some dragon youngsters are being born genetically male but then develop into females.
And, some individuals are being produced with the bodies of females but, at least to some degree, with the brains of males.
It's a brave man who would comment on that development - it won’t be me.
In any event, if you are going to have a discussion with your kids about the birds and the bees, you’d better start including lizards, legged and legless.
- Ross and Gemma Pride have split their time between Sydney and Billagal, Mudgee, since 2001.