Summer is a lizard’s
time. These cold-blooded reptiles thrive in the heat of summer,
although they too know when to shade up and let the heat of
a day pass. Lizards and snakes have little ability to control
their internal temperature, and though they are active in
the warmer months, they cannot tolerate excessive temperatures.
In August, several large lizards are commonly observed here
in Canyon Country. The Longnose Leopard Lizard has a long
snout, averages 8-15 inches in length, has tan to dark brown
color, and is spotted with dark spots; hence, its common name
resemblance to the African cat. These lizards inhabit open
country, grasslands and shrub lands, where they use their
predatory speed and agility to catch insects and small lizards
- sometimes even their own species. To further their “leopard”
connection, these lizards watch and wait for prey then run
them down with a quick burst of speed.
Gravid or pregnant female Leopard Lizards, develop orange
or scarlet spots or streaks on her sides. These may last several
weeks after she has deposited her eggs in some protective
burrow. If times are favorable, these lizards may lay a second
clutch of eggs in August. Unlike birds, there is no adult
to incubate the eggs.
The scientific name for the Leopard Lizard is Gambelia wislizenii.
Gambelia honors William Gambel (1821-1849) an assistant curator
of the Natural Academy of Sciences who collected plants in
the West. Though he died at the age of 28 during a winter
crossing of the Sierra Mountains, his memory lives on through
Gambel’s quail and Gambel’s oak. The specific
name or species name honors Frederick Wislizenus (1810-1889),
a German physician who immigrated to the United States and
collected many specimens of the flora and fauna of the Southwest.
Besides the colorful Collared Lizard, a relative of the Leopard
Lizard, the Desert Spiny Lizard can also be observed in August.
Unlike the Leopard Lizard, the Desert Spiny occupies tree
or shrub-dominated habitats. These lizards may be seen climbing
a tree or loafing on a stout limb or scampering across open
ground in search of prey. Prey consists of smaller lizards,
beetles, other insects, and even flowers and nectar.
Because of their arboreal nature, Desert Spiny Lizards have
shorter hind legs than their ground-dwelling relatives. Their
dorsal scales (on their backs) are very keeled and pointed
almost giving these reptiles a “moused” appearance.
A small black collar encircles their neck. Smaller than a
Leopard Lizard, these are stout looking lizards.
Seemingly safe from ground predators, Desert Spinies have
to contend with whipsnakes or gopher snakes, both of which
may climb trees in search of prey. Younger lizards may fall
prey to these snakes, but sometimes the snakes catch an adult.
It is almost comical to watch the snake try to swallow the
Another of the spiny lizards that is active in August is the
Eastern Fence or Plateau lizard. These lizards are often referred
to as “blue bellies” due to the blue markings
on the undersides of the males. These markings are very evident
during mating displays when the males engage in a variety
of “athletic” moves that resemble movements in
a workout video. Head bobbing, bowing, pushups, and flattening
of their sides, are all behavioral attributes meant to exhibit
these blue markings to prospective mates or to deter rivals.
Smaller than Desert Spiny Lizards, the Plateau Lizards are
found on trees, boulders, canyon walls or rocky areas. Searching
out small insects, these lizards seem to favor beetles.
So if you’re out in the noonday heat of August, take
some advice from your reptilian ancestors - be smart like
a lizardo. Pass some time in the cooler shade of a tree or
boulder. Though we may have better control over our internal
temperatures, we too cannot tolerate well those excessive
Check back soon for some really cool lizardo