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Smaller Reptiles


There are several varieties of frogs and toads, each with a different name, but there is very little folklore in connection with them. The common green frog is called walâ'sï, and among the Cherokee, as among uneducated whites, the handling of it is thought to cause warts, which for this reason are called by the same name, walâ'sï. A solar eclipse is believed to be caused by the attempt of a great frog to swallow the sun, and in former times it was customary on such occasions to fire guns and make other loud noises to frighten away the frog. The smaller varieties are sometimes eaten, and on rare occasions the bullfrog also, but the meat is tabued to ball players while in training, for fear that the brittleness of the frog's bones would be imparted to those of the player.

The land tortoise (tûksï') is prominent in the animal myths, and is reputed to have been a great warrior in the old times. On account of the stoutness of its legs ball players rub their limbs with them before going into the contest. The common water turtle (säligu'gï), which occupies so important a place in the mythology of the northern tribes, is not mentioned in Cherokee myth or folklore, and the same is true of the soft-shelled turtle (u`länä'wä), perhaps for the reason that both are rare in the cold mountain streams of the Cherokee country.

There are perhaps half a dozen varieties of lizard, each with a different name. The gray road lizard, or diyâ'hälï (alligator lizard, Sceloporus undulatus), is the most common. On account of its habit of alternately puffing out and drawing in its throat as though sucking, when basking in the sun, it is invoked in the formulas for drawing out the poison from snake bites. If one catches the first diyâ'hälï seen in the spring, and, holding it between his fingers, scratches his legs downward with its claws, he will see no dangerous snakes all summer. Also, if one be caught alive at any time and rubbed over the bead and throat of an infant, scratching the skin very slightly at the same time with the claws, the child will never be fretful, but will sleep quietly without complaining, even when sick or exposed to the rain. This is a somewhat risky experiment, however, as the child is liable thereafter to go to sleep wherever it may be laid down for a moment, so that the mother is in constant danger of losing it. According to some authorities this sleep lizard is not the diyâ'hälï, but a larger variety akin to the next described.

The gigä-tsuha'`lï ("bloody mouth, " Pleistodon?) is described as a

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very large lizard, nearly as large as a water dog, with the throat and corners of the mouth red, as though from drinking blood. It is believed to be not a true lizard but a transformed ugûñste'lï fish (described below) on account of the similarity of coloring and the fact that the fish disappears about the time the gigä-tsuha'`lï begins to come out. It is ferocious and a hard biter, and pursues other lizards. In dry weather it cries or makes a noise like a cicada, raising itself up as it cries. It has a habit of approaching near to where some person is sitting or standing, then halting and looking fixedly at him, and constantly puffing out its throat until its head assumes a bright red color. It is thought then to be sticking the blood of its victim, and is dreaded and shunned accordingly. The small scorpion lizard (tsâne'nï) is sometimes called also "blood taker" It is a striped lizard which frequents sandy beaches and resemble the diyâ'hälï, but is of a brown color. It is believed also to be sucking blood in some mysterious way whenever it nods its head, and if its heart be eaten by a dog that animal will be able to extract all the nutrient properties from food by simply looking at those who are eating.

The small spring lizard (duwë'`gâ), which lives in springs, is supposed to cause rain whenever it crawls out of the spring. It is frequently invoked in the formulas. Another spring (?) lizard, red, with black spots, is called dägan'`tû' or aniganti'skï "the rain maker, " because its cry is said to bring rain. The water dog (tsuwä' mud puppy, Menopoma or Protonopsis) is a very large lizard, or rather salamander, frequenting muddy water. It is rarely eaten, from an unexplained belief that if one who has eaten its meat goes into the field immediately afterward the crop will be ruined. There are names for one or two other varieties of lizard as well as for the alligator (tsula'skï), but no folklore in connection with them.

Although the Cherokee country abounds in swift-flowing streams well stocked with fish, of which the Indians make free use, there is but little fish lore. A number of "dream" diseases, really due to indigestion, are ascribed to revengeful fish ghosts, and the doctor usually tries to effect the cure by invoking some larger fish or fish-eating bird to drive out the ghost.

Toco creek, in Monroe county, Tennessee, derives its name from a mythic monster fish, the Däkwä', considered the father of all the fish tribe, which is said to have lived formerly in Little Tennessee river at that point (see story, "The Hunter and the Däkwä'). A fish called ugûñste'lï, "having horns, " which appears only in spring, is believed to be transformed later into the giga-tsuha'`lï lizard, already mentioned. The fish is described as having horns or projections upon its nose and beautiful red spots upon its head, and as being attended or accompanied by many smaller red fish, all of which, including the ugûñste'lï, are accustomed to pile up small stories in the water. As the season

Source: www.sacred-texts.com

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