Eric Rudolph's lizard diet.

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 3 2003 5:12 PM

Did Eric Rudolph Really Live on Lizards?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Alleged serial bomber Eric Rudolph claims to have survived his first winter on the lam primarily by eating lizards. Is he fibbing, or could such a reptile-heavy diet really keep a man alive for months?

Almost certainly not, especially given the dearth of sizable lizards in the Western Carolina mountains. The region's most abundant species are classified as skinks and include the five-lined skink. These slender critters rarely grow longer than a man's hand and can weigh as little as a tenth of an ounce. Lizard meat provides about 50 calories per ounce, putting it on par with chicken. Assuming that Rudolph needed to consume a bare minimum of 1,500 calories per day—a very generous assumption, since winter survival is particularly grueling—he'd need to dine on nearly two pounds' worth of lizards each day. That's somewhere between 100 and 300 skinks, which means he'd have to spend virtually every waking moment turning over rocks and peering into rotted logs.

Advertisement

It's possible that Rudolph also incorporated salamanders into his diet, as the lizardlike amphibians are plentiful in the Southeast. Still, salamanders and lizards are hard to locate and capture, especially in the dense forest that Rudolph called home—salamanders in particular, as they are nocturnal. Wilderness survival experts recommend preying on frogs and snakes instead, since they're less skilled at evasive maneuvers. Rudolph would also have been well-advised to focus his lizard-hunting efforts on the early morning hours, when the creatures are sluggish because they've yet to receive adequate sunlight.

As an ex-soldier, Rudolph was likely familiar with the Army's survival manual, which contains tips on worst-case-scenario cuisine. The book clearly states that reptiles should be cooked thoroughly, as the raw flesh often contains dangerous parasites. On the plus side, cold-blooded animals don't carry blood diseases. And Carolina lizards aren't poisonous, so there's no need to worry about crunching into a venomous sac.

Although lizards are rarely eaten in the West, they frequently appear on menus overseas. The animals are considered a delicacy in China's Guangdong province, for example, though the government has been cracking down on wild-animal markets to discourage new disease outbreaks in the wake of SARS. In Vietnam, some species are believed to promote male virility, and roasted lizards are enjoyed in parts of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Americans who've sampled the flesh report that it tastes like chicken.

Explainer thanks Ron Hood of Survival.comand Michael Dorcas of Davidson College.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.