Mar 23

Most people know of Johnny Depp, and love him for his portrayal of eccentric, slightly mad characters, from Edward Scissorhands and the Mad Hatter to captain Jack Sparrow. His latest foray into the world of cinema sees Depp as the voice behind Rango – a chameleon abandoned in the desert of Nevada, who stumbles across a remote town of desert animals, and masquerades as a tough and brave drifter. Following a series of quarrels, Rango kills a dangerous hawk, and is appointed town sheriff by tortoise John, the town mayor.

Some of the Rango cast also make cameo appearances in ARKive….

Blending in

Rango, as a chameleon, is a highly specialised lizard. Chameleons are native to Africa, Europe and Asia. Chameleons are famous for a range of adaptations, from their independently rotating eyes giving 360 degree vision, projectile tongues to catch and grasp prey and an astonishing ability to change colour.

Parson's chameleon catching insect prey on tongue

“Hey hombre, who you looking at?”

Seen in Rango as part of mariachi band, complete with sombreros, the burrowing owl is a curious critter, with striking yellow eyes and long legs. Living underground, they are reminiscent of meerkats, as families crowd round their underground burrows, a behaviour unusual in owl species. They pick up mammal dung and put it outside their burrow to attract dung beetles, a tasty morsel for a hungry owl. Although able to dig their own burrow, they often use an abandoned burrow – it’s much easier to move into someone’s old house than make your own!

Photo of young burrowing owls at entrance to den

Does my tail look big in this?

Another cast member is the Gila monster, the largest lizard in the United States, starring as the outlaw Bad Bill. It is also one of the few venomous lizards in the world, although this is used as a defensive measure. This distinctive species, with a thickset body, has large bony scales, a feature uncommon since the dinosaurs. With a fat-storing tail, adult Gila monsters are able to go without food for months at a time, although juveniles have a voracious appetite, eating up to 50% of their body weight in one sitting.

Gila monster photo

Slow and Steady

Tortoise John, the town mayor is a threatened species; the desert tortoise is endemic to the southwestern states of America. Well adapted to a desert environment, they obtain most of their water from the grass that they feed on. During the mating season, males compete against each other for receptive females, attempting to tip rival males onto their back.

Photo of male desert tortoises fighting

Snake, rattle and roll

Unlike rattlesnake Jake, whose tail hides a Gatling gun, the western diamond-backed rattlesnake’s tail is made of loosely connected, interlocking segments of dead, hard keratin, which produces the chilling, rattling sound used to warn of its presence. Newborn snakes, although well developed and equipped with fangs and toxic venom, only develop their rattle after skin moults.

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake basking in sun photo

Can you find any more of the Rango cast hiding in ARKive?

Ben Morris, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

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