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As mentioned previously, we have two primary species of lizard here at Curbstone Valley, Alligator Lizards (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata), and Coast Range Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii).

Male Coast Range Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii) - click to enlarge any image

The most common of the two species by far is the Coast Range Fence Lizard, commonly called the Blue-bellied lizard.  This subspecies is a member of the spiny lizard family Phrynosomatidae, and endemic to California, ranging from Sonoma County south to Santa Barbara.

Juvenile Coast Range Fence Lizard

The genus name Sceloporus is from the Greek skelos, meaning “leg” and porus, meaning “pores” in reference to the femoral pores located along the underside of the leg in this species. The species name occidentalis refers to their western distribution.

Coast Range Fence Lizards are found in open, sunny woodlands, chaparral and grasslands near waterways, and around suburban neighborhoods.  This is not a desert-dwelling species.  On the farm we find the highest concentrations in the orchard and garden areas, often perched up on sandy banks, or on fence posts or tree stumps basking in the sun.

A Coast Range Fence Lizard uses an old oak stump as a lookout

Coast Range Fence Lizards may be brown, gray, or near black in coloration with a blotched pattern across the dorsal scales. Light colored lateral and dorsal markings may appear to form irregular stripes or bands. Their overall coloration provides good camouflage against leaf litter and logs, making it more difficult for their predators, like our resident red-shouldered hawks, to find them.

The gray-brown color of the dorsal scales provides good camouflage against the leaf litter...

...and logs...

This is a small lizard species, averaging 21 cm in total length. They have pointed scales of relatively equal size on the dorsal, lateral, and ventral surfaces. Scales on the caudal thigh are smaller, predominantly keeled, and yellow to orange in color.  This differentiates the Coast Range Fence Lizard from the Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus gracilis), which lacks the yellow-orange caudal thigh coloration.

Note the small orange scales on the caudal thigh of this male

Males have blue, and occasionally green markings on the belly, a blue patch on the throat, which is more prominent than the Sagebrush Lizard, and occasionally blue flecks on the dorsal surface.

 

This male has beautiful blue scales around the throat

This coloration can be quite spectacular in some individuals, especially during breeding season.

 

Closer view of the blue and green colored scales on the ventro-lateral surface of a male Coast Range Fence Lizard

Females may have faint blue markings on the lateral surface of the belly, but no blue markings dorsally, and may also appear to have dark barring on the dorsal scales.

The female Coast Range Fence Lizards seem more secretive

One notable feature in this species is the presence of a brown line that connects the orbit and upper corner of the ear and continues to the dorsal surface of the neck.

Note the brown line connecting the outside corner of the eye to the upper ear

Like the Alligator Lizards, Coast Range Fence Lizards may detach their tail deliberately (caudal autonomy) as a defensive tactic, and the tail will regenerate, but the regenerated tail will not be as perfect in appearance.

These lizards are excellent climbers, and have sharp, curved claws on both their fore and hind limbs.

Fence lizards have very sharp, hooked claws, that facilitate climbing

The diet of the Coast Range Fence Lizard consists primarily of small invertebrates, including spiders, crickets, beetles, flies, wasps, scorpions, termites and ants.

Occasionally these lizards may be observed with white crusts around their nostrils, like the lizard shown below.

 

Coast Range Fence Lizard with salt crusts around the nares

At first glance this might appear to be some sort of fungal growth.  However, to conserve water in an arid environment, many lizard species have specialized nasal salt glands that enable them to excrete excess dietary sodium and potassium salts.

This subspecies mates during the spring months, during which time some impressive displays, and even occasional fighting between con-specific males can be observed here on the farm.

Coast Range Fence Lizard male

The females lay up to 3 clutches of eggs, averaging 8 eggs per clutch, but reportedly may be as few as 3 or as many as 17, between April to July. Eggs laid earlier in the season are larger than those laid later.  We were fortunate to observe a female burying her eggs in some loose soil in the orchard last month, but were trying not to disrupt her behavior, so we neglected to film or photograph it.  Incubation is approximately 60 days, and the eggs hatch between July to September.  We’ve already seen a number of juveniles running around this season, and expect we’ll see more before the season is over.

Coast Range Fence Lizard

The lifespan of Coast Range Fence Lizards is believed to be up to six years, however, due to predation by birds and snakes, many will not survive their first year.

As mentioned in our Alligator Lizard post, proteins in the blood of Coast Range Fence Lizards have been shown to have a bactericidal effect on Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis (Lyme disease) [1,2].  With our healthy deer population, and subsequently robust tick population on the property, we’re more than happy to do what we can to encourage our resident lizards to thrive here.

A content Coast Range Fence Lizard resting on a log in the vegetable garden

If you have fence lizards where you live, you can help provide suitable habitat by leaving small rock piles, or brush and log piles for them.  They will utilize these areas both when basking, and to retreat to when hiding from hungry predators.

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We leave all wild animal species at Curbstone Valley in their natural environments, and are careful not to damage sensitive habitat and hiding places.  Note that it is illegal to collect and possess native reptile species in California without the required licenses and/or permits.

[1] Kuo MM, Lane RS, Giclas PC.  A comparative study of mammalian and reptilian alternative pathway of complement-mediated killing of the Lyme disease spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi). J Parasitol. 2000 Dec; 86(6):1223-8

[2] Lane RS, Mun J, Eisen L, Eisen RJ.  Refractoriness of the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) to the Lyme disease group spirochete Borrelia bissettii. J Parasitol. 2006 Aug; 92(4):691-6.