Arizona Lizard Update–November, 2013

By Garry Rogers

More than half of the lizard species found in the U. S. are present in Arizona.  They are a colorful group with fascinating life histories.  Lizards help control ants, termites, and other insects, and with only one exception, the Gila Monster, they are not venomous.  Field guides are available online (Arizona Herpetological Association, Brennan, 2008), and in print (Jones and Lovich, 2009, and Stebbins, 1966).

Plateau Fence Lizard

Plateau Fence Lizard

The photograph shows a Plateau Fence Lizard.  These lizards do like fences, but they will sit on any convenient object that gives them an elevated view.  They are found throughout central and northern Arizona.

Lizards are not descended from dinosaurs.  They appeared about the same time and lived with dinosaurs, but they are not closely related.  Lizard legs extend to the sides of the body rather than projecting downward or forward.  Lizards became a separate group in the Late Triassic, over 200 million years ago.


Children like lizards almost as much as they like turtles.  Lizards are not as easy to play with, but they are very brave and colorful, and some are easy to catch.  If you haven’t tried to pick up a ground hugging Horned Lizard (aka Horny Toad), or seen one squirt blood from its eyes you’ve missed out on two of life’s finest experiences.  It’s hard to imagine how blood squirting evolved as a defense, but I’ve read that the blood is distasteful to some predators.  When threatened, Horned Lizards and many other lizard species puff up their bodies and do pushups to appear larger and scarier.  Some lizards have replaceable tails.  When cornered, they wave their tails to lure predators into striking that detachable and replaceable appendage.

Arizona Alligator Lizard

Arizona Alligator Lizard (Elgaria kingii)

Newly-hatched lizards have to begin hunting food immediately.  Only the young of a few skink species receive any parental care, and then not much.  A tiny tree lizard less than one inch long, will investigate every small object it finds.  Since anything might be dangerous instead of delicious, these tiny creatures will approach a twig, pebble, or clod of dirt, do some pushups, and then try a bite.  Tiny slugs, ants, and other small arthropods are what they need.  Bite-sized morsels themselves, most baby lizards don’t grow up.  Those that do join the ranks of one of our most important regulators of bug populations.

Lizard Numbers

(Numbers from Gibbons et al. (2000) and AZGFD (2012).  The Arizona numbers include subspecies and sub populations).

  • World:  ≈5,000
  • United States: >100
  • Arizona total lizard species:  69
  • Arizona native lizards species:  67
  • Arizona lizards imperiled, vulnerable, or possible long-term concern:  39 (58%)
  • ESA Arizona Lizards of Concern:  11 (16%)

Arizona Lizard Conservation

Almost all of Arizona’s lizard species are declining in response to human developments.  Roads, houses, pesticides, invasive species, wildfire, energy development and transmission, and more human activities are steadily eroding their numbers.  Species such as the Horned Lizards have almost no ability to survive their encounters with people.  Easily captured, they are often taken as pets or specimens, an experience they often do not survive.

Further information on conservation is available on the Internet sites listed in the references.  The PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) website provides access to special reports and newsletters containing interesting information about lizards.  A good discussion of lizard conservation is provided in the book by Jones and Lovich (2009).

Arizona Lizard References

  • AZGF (Arizona Game and Fish Department):  http://www.azgfd.gov.
  • Arizona Herpetological Association:  http://www.azreptiles.com.
  • Brennan, T.C.  2008.  Online field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Arizona:  http://www.reptilesofaz.com/.
  • Gibbons, J.W., D.E. Scott, T.J. Ryan, K.A. Buhlmann, T.D. Tuberville, B.S. Metts, J.L. Greene, T. Mills, Y. Leiden, S. Poppy, and C.T. Winne.  2000.  The global decline of reptiles, déjà vu amphibians.  BioScience 50:  653-666.
  • International Reptile Conservation Fund:  http://www.ircf.org/.
  • Jones, L.L.C., and R.E. Lovich, eds.  2009.  Lizards of the American Southwest:  A photographic field guide.  Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, AZ.  567 p.
  • PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation):  http://www.parcplace.org/.
  • Stebbins, R.C.  1966.  A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians.  Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.  279 p.

Arizona Lizard Conservation Status Symbols (from AZGFD)

Symbols used by Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD)

  • S1         Critically Imperiled: Extremely rare or some factor(s) is making the species especially vulnerable to extirpation.  Typically 5 or fewer locations or very few remaining individuals (<1,000).
  • S2         Imperiled:  Rare or some factor(s) is making the species very vulnerable to extirpation. Typically 6 to 20 occurrences or few remaining individuals (1,000 to 3,000).
  • S3         Vulnerable:  Rare or found only in a restricted range (even if abundant at some locations), or because of other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation.  Typically 21 to 100 occurrences or between 3,000 and 10,000 individuals.
  • S4         Apparently Secure:  Uncommon but not rare, and usually widespread.  Usually more than 100 occurrences* and more than 10,000 individuals.  Possible long-term concern.
  • S5         Secure:  Common, widespread, and abundant.  Safe under present conditions.  Typically with considerably more than 100 locations and more than 10,000 individuals.
  • S?         Status unknown.
  • S#S#:   Indicates the range of uncertainty about exact status (e.g., S3S4).
  • E:          Exotic Origin:  Species is not native to AZ.

Symbols Used for the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
(US Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service)

  • SC        Species of Concern:  Describes the entire realm of taxa whose conservation status may be of concern to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but does not have official federal status.

A R I Z O N A   L I Z A R D S

SCIENTIFIC NAME

COMMON NAME

AZ

ESA

Aspidoscelis arizonae

Arizona Striped Whiptail

S1S2

Aspidoscelis exsanguis

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail

S2

Aspidoscelis flagellicauda

Gila Spotted Whiptail

S4

Aspidoscelis inornata

Little Striped Whiptail

SRF

Aspidoscelis neomexicana

New Mexico Whiptail

S?

Aspidoscelis pai

Pai Striped Whiptail

S1

Aspidoscelis sonorae

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail

S5

Aspidoscelis stictogramma

Giant Spotted Whiptail

S2

SC

Aspidoscelis tesselata

Common Checkered Whiptail

S?

Aspidoscelis tigris

Tiger Whiptail

S5

Aspidoscelis uniparens

Desert Grassland Whiptail

S5

Aspidoscelis velox

Plateau Striped Whiptail

S5

Aspidoscelis xanthonota

Redback Whiptail

S2

SC

Callisaurus draconoides

Zebra-tailed Lizard

S5

Coleonyx variegatus

Western Banded Gecko

S5

Coleonyx variegatus bogerti

Tucson Banded Gecko

S?

Coleonyx variegatus variegatus

Desert Banded Gecko

S?

Cophosaurus texanus

Greater Earless Lizard

S5

Cophosaurus texanus scitulus

Chihuahuan Greater Earless Lizard

S5

Crotaphytus bicinctores

Great Basin Collared Lizard

S4

Crotaphytus collaris

Eastern Collared Lizard

S5

Crotaphytus nebrius

Sonoran Collared Lizard

S3S4

Ctenosaura pectinata

Western Spiny-taled Iguana

SE

Dipsosaurus dorsalis

Desert Iguana

S5

Elgaria kingii

Madrean Alligator Lizard

S5

Elgaria kingii nobilis

Arizona Alligator Lizard

S5

Gambelia wislizenii

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

S5

Heloderma suspectum

Gila Monster

S4

Heloderma suspectum cinctum

Banded Gila Monster

S4

SC

Heloderma suspectum suspectum

Reticulate Gila Monster

S4

Hemidactylus turcicus

Mediterranean Gecko

SE5

Holbrookia maculata

Common Lesser Earless Lizard

S5

Phrynosoma cornutum

Texas Horned Lizard

S3S4

SC

Phrynosoma goodei

Goode’s Horned Lizard

S3S4

Phrynosoma hernandesi

Greater Short-horned Lizard

S4

Phrynosoma mcallii

Flat-tailed Horned Lizard

S2

SC

Phrynosoma modestum

Round-tailed Horned Lizard

S3

Phrynosoma platyrhinos

Desert Horned Lizard

S5

Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum

Southern Desert Horned Lizard

S5

Phrynosoma solare

Regal Horned Lizard

S5

Plestiodon “gilberti”

Gilbert’s Skink

S3S4

Plestiodon “gilberti” rubricaudatus

Western Red-tailed Skink

S3S4

Plestiodon callicephalus

Mountain Skink

S2

Plestiodon multivirgatus

Many-lined Skink

S3S4

Plestiodon multivirgatus epipleurotus

Variable Skink

S3S4

Plestiodon obsoletus

Great Plains Skink

S5

Plestiodon skiltonianus

Western Skink

S1

Sauromalus ater

Common Chuckwalla

S4

SC

Sauromalus ater (Arizona Population)

Arizona Chuckwalla

S4

SC

Sauromalus ater (Glen Canyon Population)

Glen Canyon Chuckwalla

S2?

SC

Sauromalus ater (Western Population)

Western Chuckwalla

S4

SC

Sceloporus clarkii

Clark’s Spiny Lizard

S5

Sceloporus graciosus

Common Sagebrush Lizard

S3S4

Sceloporus graciosus graciosus

Northern Sagebrush Lizard

S3S4

SC

Sceloporus jarrovii

Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard

S5

Sceloporus magister

Desert Spiny Lizard

S5

Sceloporus slevini

Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard

S2

Sceloporus undulatus

Fence/Prairie/Plateau Lizard

SRF

Sceloporus virgatus

Striped Plateau Lizard

S3

Uma notata

See: Uma rufopunctata

SRF

Uma rufopunctata

Yuman Desert Fringe-toed Lizard

S2

SC

Uma scoparia

Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard

S1

Urosaurus graciosus

Long-tailed Brush Lizard

S5

Urosaurus ornatus

Ornate Tree Lizard

S5

Uta stansburiana

Common Side-blotched Lizard

S5

Uta stansburiana elegans

Western Side-blotched Lizard

S3

Xantusia arizonae

Arizona Night Lizard

S1

Xantusia bezyi

Bezy’s Night Lizard

S2

Xantusia vigilis

Desert Night Lizard

S4

13 thoughts on “Arizona Lizard Update–November, 2013

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