Because California spans most the West Coast of the United States and is 163,707 square miles or territory, the lizards within the state occupy a vast geographical terrain. From the lush redwood national forest in the north, to the central Sierra Nevada range and to Death Valley and the Mojave Desert in the south, various lizard species have flourished in California for many years.
Northern California Lizards
The complete list of California lizards is extensive, but there are some that are more common than others.
The Sceloporus occidentalis, or northwestern fence lizard, is found in all regions of Northern California. A fairly small reptile, fence lizards are usually only 3.5 inches long from nose to vent (the underlying flap at the base of the tail). They are brown, gray or black, with tan flecks and the males have a divided, blue underbelly. Science has recently taken an interest in fence lizards, because their blood contains a protein that kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Another common lizard of Northern California is the sagebrush lizard. Often confused with the northwestern fence lizard, the sagebrush lizard is similar in size and color, but fence lizards have larger dorsal scales and are lighter in color.
Central California Lizards
Alligator lizards (Elgaria multicarinata) are so named for their large bony scales, oversized head, elongated body and powerful jaws. They are brown, gray or yellowish on top, with red blotches down the middle of the back. Once a shy grassland and forest dweller this reptile is now found in suburban neighborhoods and yards.
The Blainville's horned lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii) is an unusual reptile with an oval-flat body covered in raised scales and a crown of horns on its head. They are reddish gray-brown with dark blotches on their backs. Horned lizards reach roughly 3 to 4.5 inches in length and inflates itself when threatened, making it appear larger.
Southern California Lizards
Southern California is home to California's most diverse lizard population because of the desert terrain that is predominant there.
The great basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores), often described as a miniature dinosaur, has a large head and narrow neck with distinctive black bands. The body is brown to olive green, with white spots and a light, almost white, underbelly. Collard lizards grow to almost 5 inches from nose tip to vent, with their tails almost twice the length of their bodies.
Desert banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus) lives strictly in arid terrain as its name implies. It's a smaller lizard, only growing from 2 to 3 inches from nose to vent. It varies from a pale yellow, pink or gray with tan or brown bands around the body. In juveniles the bands are quite visible, growing dull as the lizard reaches the adult stage.
Rare California Lizards
The peninsular banded gecko (Coleonyx switaki) inhabits a small area on the California Baja border. This gecko is a small, shy lizard that is currently listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. Once popular for collectors, now a special permit is required to possess one.
The banded Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum cinctum) is the largest native lizard in the United States, growing up to14 inches. Gila monsters are venomous, but not aggressive unless provoked. This reptile is listed as a California "species of special concern" with the California Department of Fish and Game and "near threatened" by the World Conservation Union.
- "A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians"; Robert C. Stebbins and Roger Tory Peterson; 2003
- California Horned Lizard
- California Herps: A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
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