California Nature

Learn about California's beautiful and unique nature.

California's  Lizards
Lizards have four legs and a tail. An exception is the legless lizard which has no legs, and looks like a snake. Also, some lizards may have no tail because it has come off. The skin of a lizard is dry and covered with scales. The majority of lizards are active during daylight. Exceptions are geckos and some night lizards which are active at night. Lizards are typically seen actively moving about in daylight, or sitting still in the sun. They are also found hiding underneath objects and debris, usually in sunny areas. Exceptions are skinks and some alligator and legless lizards, which prefer more moist environments. Lizards can be seen whenever there is warm weather, including occasionally in the winter, especially in the south. Salamanders can be mistaken for lizards, as they have four legs, a tail, and a similar body pattern, but they will have smooth, moist skin, and generally they are found hiding underneath something in a moist and usually shady area, usually during cool wet weather.

The western banded gecko occurs in the Mohave and Sonoran deserts. The Western Banded Gecko occurs in the Mohave and Sonoran deserts. The western banded gecko occurs in the Mohave and Sonoran deserts. This delicate-looking lizard seldom exceeds 3 inches in length, excluding the tail. It has moveable eyelids and large eyes with vertical pupils. The small body scales are granular and soft; the toes are slender. There is a constriction at the base of the otherwise bulky tail. The tail is about as long as the body with indistinct rings. Between the pairs of legs are dark brown crossbars on a pale yellow, pink, tan, or cream background. The eyelids are edged in white. The head and body are mottled with light brown. The belly is somewhat translucent. Males have prominent spurs on either side of the body at the base of the tail.

Active principally at night, western banded geckos can be seen crossing roads during the summer. It has been suggested that their gait and carriage mimics that of the scorpions of the genus Hadrurus that share the same habitat. If disturbed, the gecko will wave its tail to divert attention of a would-be predator away from its head and body. The tail has specialized fracture planes that allow it to easily break off. Blood vessels close off rapidly to prevent much blood loss and the writhing tail is left behind. This may allow the lizard to escape predation; its tail is very rapidly regrown. However, the regenerated tail consists of cartilaginous material that lacks fracture planes; it is also shorter than the original and has different color patterns and scales.

California Legless Lizards have the ability to purposely detach their tails to trick predators. If you looked very closely at the California Legless Lizard, you might see that unlike snakes, they have moveable eyelids. Also unlike most snakes, many lizards, this one included,. About the length and size of a pencil, this unusual lizard burrows easily through the sand while feasting on sowbugs, ants, insects and insect larvae. California legless lizards or Anniella pulchra have a shovel-shaped snout, are very slender and grow to be four to seven inches long. They come in a variety of earthy colors, some legless lizards are gray-silver, others wear beige or brown and some stick to basic black. Legless lizard chasers and tail eaters include deer mice, feral cats, birds, weasels and ironically snakes.

gila monsters are one of only a few venomous lizardsGila Monsters are one of only two species of seriously venomous lizards! Gila Monsters are found in the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of extreme southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, southeastern California, Arizona and southwestern New Mexico into Mexico. Gila monsters are heavy-bodied lizards covered with beadlike scales of black and yellow or pink. They are solitary and live in desert and semidesert areas with just enough moisture to support a few shrubs. The lizards prefer rocky foothills and avoid open areas. They are inactive much of the time, hiding in burrows or under rocks. During cold winter months, Gila monsters stay in their burrows and have fat stores in their tails to keep them alive. When springtime comes, they begin to hunt again. During the summer, the lizards only come out in the evening.

As carnivores, Gila monsters do not have very good eyesight; when they hunt, they use their senses of taste and smell. To track prey, the Gila monster flicks its forked tongue out to pick up scent particles in the air. These lizards are not very fast, so they need to sneak up on animals and bite them before they get away. Their prey includes birds’ eggs and nestlings, rodents, frogs, lizards, insects, centipedes, and worms; they may also eat carrion. Gila monsters don’t chew their food, they just swallow it whole.

The Western Skink has a shiny appearance because the body is covered in smooth and shiny, rounded scales. Western skinks can grow to over 20 cm in length and have black brown and beige stripes from nose to tail. Western skinks like places to hide, so they live in areas with lots of leaf litter, rotting logs and rocks. They like grassy areas and forests, where they can dig burrows for the long winter. Western Skinks are carnivores that hunt their prey along the forest floor. They eat all types of insects as well as spiders and earthworms. Body color fades as the Western Skink ages and molts. The tails of adults range from light blue to very light powder blue to gray. Tails of the males are usually brighter blue than females, although tails in both sexes of adults are not as bright as those of the juveniles. 

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