- The reality behind the myths
By: Rafaqat Masroor
There are many tales associated with lizards that are widely spread not only in Pakistan but throughout the world. Unfortunately, these myths and beliefs are not restricted to rural folk and the illiterate class, but also include a large proportion of educated people. You will normally find people saying that lizards, commonly called geckos, are deadly poisonous. These people relate the yellowish color of the common House Gecko (Hemidactylus flaviviridis) to poison, and believe that it is poison which makes the animal yellow (sometimes Tiger Frog is also included in this category). They further believe that Almighty Allah has not permitted the poor animal (lizards) to bite human beings. But the fear still remains because they assume that the animal may disobey the order of the Almighty at any moment. The narrators support their point of view by citing the examples of several families who died because of taking cooked food or boiled milk which was later on found to contain dead lizards.
In the majority of the rural areas of Sindh, you will frequently come to know about a story of a lizard called ‘Hann Khann (In Sindhi, hann means ‘bitten’ and khann means ‘died’). Further to increase and propagate fear in the masses, people strongly believe that the person who is bitten by this lizard turns into liquid. The myth is so common and widespread that almost every rural Sindhi firmly believes in it. In KPK, the majority of the inhabitants of the southern districts and inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) name this aforementioned lizard “Zar-o-Zang” and deem it to be lethally poisonous. In one another form, there is a common belief that a person may suffer from leprosy if a gecko spits on it and this is why in some areas of Pakistan people call such lizards “Korh Kirli” (in the locl language, a lizard [kirli] capable of afflicting leprosy[korh]). This is another example which allegedly supports the poisonous nature of lizards. The common Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor) is considered poisonous and generally feared by the locals. This lizard is commonly called kirarr qazi, imaama da chhor, shyee” or “Saana” or “Girgit” in various localities. This species is particularly abhorred, because the reptile’s habit of bobbing is considered a mockery of Muslim prayer. It is sometimes also called “Kafir-girgit” (Infidel lizard), and it is particularly meritorious to kill them on Fridays.
The story of hann khann ia only a myth. Scientifically, the lizard is eublepharis macularius, the most docile, harmless and beautiful nocturnal lizard, also called the Fat-tailed Gecko. In many parts of the world, people love to keep it as a pet. In general, many geckos can be easily tamed and learn to take food from the hand
The terms venomous and poisonous are often used interchangeably, but incorrectly. The difference between the two terms involves the delivery mechanism of toxins/chemicals. Both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that is injurious or even lethal to another organism. Venomous organisms deliver or inject venom into other organisms, using a specialized apparatus of some kind (usually fangs or a stinger). Poison is a toxin that is found inside an organism that has no means to inject the toxin into a victim. Poison must be inhaled, ingested, or delivered via touch.
There are still many more fictions related to the lizards and are quite common in different parts of Pakistan. They are used to pass on from chest to chest and from one generation to other or may be through non-scientific literature or story books.
What the reality is!: There is absolutely no poisonous lizard in the world except the truly venomous Gila Monster, Heloderma, which is restricted only to Arizona (South-West USA) and Mexico. Some lizards could pose danger if they are of bigger size, an example being set set by the Komodo Dragon which has a length of about 3.5 m and is the largest lizard species and predator on Komodo Islands of Indonesia.
Geckos are the most innocent lizards. The smaller ones do not even make any attempt to bite, or, if they do, their jaws are too weak to inflict any injury. The bigger ones may bite but can never be fatal or dangerous. The yellow colour of house geckos is not even persistent and when the animal move from light into dark, its colour automatically darkens. The change in colour is quite common in several lizards and is carried out because of biochemical changes in their skins.
Whenever a lizard has fallen into the food during cooking process, the death caused by the food poisoning is not due to the poison of the lizard. It is now best known that food poisoning due to any reason can result in a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. It is rapid in onset and may cause death. This sort of poisoning may occur with any dead animal. For that matter, if you do not slaughter a hen properly and cook it in an uncleaned manner, the result will be similar to that of death caused by lizard poisoning. Various parts of lizards like blood, viscera, and faeces in the digestive tract are sufficient to poison the food and in severe cases could cause the death of any one. Even expired food or the rotten meat could cause the same result.
The story of hann khann ia only a myth. Scientifically, the lizard is eublepharis macularius, the most docile, harmless and beautiful nocturnal lizard, also called the Fat-tailed Gecko. In many parts of the world, people love to keep it as a pet. In general, many geckos can be easily tamed and learn to take food from the hand.
The writer is a research associate at the Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad and can be reachrf at: [email protected]