The "Lizard Whisperer" Explains How to Hypnotize a Lizard

As a 6-year-old kid, Lily Capeheart would catch lizards in her West Palm Beach backyard. Then one day in 2006, she tried to hypnotize one. She had seen a show on Animal Planet in which a woman hypnotizes an alligator by flipping it over and rubbing its belly. Capeheart figured the same trick could work on the tiny reptiles in her backyard. It did! For half an hour, Capeheart could keep lizards in a highly relaxed and still state.

Capeheart would then play with the entranced lizards like dolls: she’d dress them in Polly Pockets clothes and pose them to tell stories. There was the artist lizard, the opera singer lizard, the motorcycle lizard. Since her father is a photographer, he taught her to take stills of her work. 

“It was funny — the lizards would stay so still. They were like little living dolls,” Capeheart says. “I’m sure my parents were a little weirded out, but they supported anything I did.”

The Capehearts decided to start Lizardville, a small online business selling the wacky prints on T-shirts and coffee mugs. The media soon caught on to Capehart’s talent and, in 2009, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres both invited her on their shows as a guest. She was called a “Lizard Whisperer.” Business took off.

But that was seven years ago. Capeheart, now a 20-year-old business and environmental science major at FAU, says she hasn’t actually hypnotized a lizard in a few years and hasn’t posed them for photos since middle school. Now that it's summer, she shared her tricks to hypnotizing lizards for other curious kids:

“No one has ever come up with a scientific explanation for it,” she says. “I think it just depends on having patience.”
Step 1: Catch the lizard. 
For many, this is the hardest step. Capeheart says to be very gentle, or else "their tails will fall off if you grab them." Capeheart says it helps to sneak up on the lizards from behind. If they don't see you running toward them, they're less likely to scurry away in a bush.

Step 2: Hold them for a minute.
Capehart stresses to be gentle and not to squeeze the lizards, as she has sometimes seen younger kids do. Since lizards are cold-blooded, she believes they enjoy the warmth of the human hand. In videos, the lizards seem to curl up on Capeheart's fingers. 

Step 3: Flip the lizard over.
Capeheart says to turn the lizard over gently. In videos, Capeheart uses her right hand to lightly pinch the lizard from behind. That way its stomach is exposed to her.  

Step 4: Gently stroke the lizard's belly.
This is where the magic happens. Capeheart says there isn't a secret spell or way of stroking the belly to bring the lizard to its relaxed state. She uses her left index finger to softly brush the animal's belly. It doesn't take more than five seconds for the lizard to suddenly relax and stay completely still. Capeheart says they'll stay like that for a few minutes and up to half an hour. 

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson