3 Alligator Lizards in California! (ID Guide)

How many ALLIGATOR lizards are there in California?”

common alligator lizards in California

If you’ve ever seen a photo of a baby alligator, you will immediately know how Alligator Lizards got their name!


These small, thick-bodied lizards with long tails look just like shrunken-down alligators, with their brightly colored eyes and hard, ridged scales.


Unlike alligators though, they stay small and are relatively hard to find in the wild. If you do see one, you’ll have to be quick to catch a glimpse! Alligator Lizards are fast, agile, and prone to hide when they are threatened.


Today, you’ll learn the 3 kinds of Alligator Lizards in California.


#1. Southern Alligator Lizard

  • Elgaria multicarinata

types of alligator lizards in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.75-7 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • The coloring is brown, gray, or reddish with dark bands and sometimes white spots.
  • The eyes are pale yellow.
  • The tail is long; often twice the length of the body.


The Southern Alligator Lizard’s habitat is primarily open grassland and pine forest. They will sometimes go into the water to escape a predator but live on land.


You may even find one around your house if you live in their range  – they particularly like woodpiles and trash heaps!


United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Southern Alligator Lizards in California have a dangerous favorite food – the Black Widow Spider!


This highly venomous spider doesn’t have very many predators, but Southern Alligator Lizards eat them frequently.


There are three subspecies of the Southern Alligator Lizard:

  • California Alligator Lizard (E.m. multicarinata) has red blotches on its back.
  • San Diego Alligator Lizard (E.m. webbii) is larger, and the scales have a more prominent ridge than others.
  • Oregon Alligator Lizard (E.m. scincicauda) has smooth scales and lacks mottling on the head.


#2. Northern Alligator Lizard

  • Elgaria coerulea

species of alligator lizards in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.75-5.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Coloring is variable; gray, olive, brown, rust-red, greenish, or blue are common.
  • Dark crossbands are common, and sometimes a middle stripe is present.


Northern Alligator Lizards in California are the most varied in appearance.


The four subspecies all have slightly different characteristics and different ranges. If you find a Northern Alligator Lizard in the wild, the easiest way to tell which subspecies you have found is by location.


All the subspecies prefer woodland and forested areas in a damp, cool climate. They eat insects, ticks, centipedes, slugs, and spiders. Yum!

The four subspecies of the Northern Alligator Lizard are:

  • San Francisco Alligator Lizard (E.c. coerulea) Large, dark blotches appear on the back and sometimes look like crossbands.
  • Shasta Alligator Lizard (E.c. shastensis) The most variable in color, and most colors besides brown and gray are Shasta Alligator Lizards.
  • Northwestern Alligator Lizard (E.c. principis) Smaller than other subspecies with a broad, tan stripe on the back.
  • Sierra Alligator Lizard (E.c. palmeri) The only visual difference is the number of scale rows on the back – location is your best tool for identification.


#3. Panamint Alligator Lizard

  • Elgaria panamintina

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.5 to 6 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Coloring is light yellow or beige with evenly spaced, broad crossbands.
  • The eyes are pale yellow, and the tail is at least twice as long as the body.


The Panamint Alligator Lizard prefers damp areas with plenty of logs or vegetation to hide in. Its habitat includes scrub desert and Joshua Tree areas.

United States Geological Survey (USGS)


We know Panamint Alligator Lizards eat insects, but virtually nothing is known about them other than their diet! They are the most secretive Alligator Lizards in California and are rarely seen in the wild.


If you are lucky enough to see one in its natural habitat, observe quietly from a distance. They are skittish lizards and will run and hide at the first sign of a threat.


Do you need additional help identifying Alligator Lizards?

Try this field guide!


Which of these Alligator Lizards have you seen in California?


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One Comment

  1. Hi my name is Toni Bunyard and I have two northern California alligator lizard skinks they and 3others hatched in my room ayr ago and this last Saturday morning we found 2more . the 2iraisedare a olive color &a rusty orange color the other ones are dark in color. I live in west Sacramento California.