“What kinds of lizards can you find in Iowa?”
I was amazed by the number of lizards in the United States – well over 150 species! Some species live only in a small area, and some are widespread over hundreds of miles.
Today, you’ll learn about 5 different kinds of lizards in Iowa.
#1. Six-Lined Racerunner
- Aspidoscelis sexlineata
- 2.25 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- “Dark fields,” or broad stripes in between lighter stripes on whiptails, are brown to black.
- 6-8 light stripes vary in color from white or yellow to gray-blue.
- In males, coloring is much brighter, with greens on the back and light turquoise on the belly.
The Six-Lined Racerunner has the widest range of all lizards in Iowa.
They thrive in varied habitats, including grassland, rocky terrain, wooded areas, and even floodplains. So, you have a good chance of seeing one as long as you’re within their range!
Six-Lined Racerunners are insectivores, and their primary food source is termites. However, they also eat beetles, ants, and spiders, so these small whiptails can be handy to have around if you have a pest problem.
The Six-Lined Racerunner lives up to its name, clocking speeds at up to 18 miles per hour! They have no problem outmaneuvering predators and curious humans!
#2. Great Plains Skink
- Plestiodon obsoletus
- Adults are up to 13 inches long.
- Coloring ranges from light gray or olive to tan with darker brown markings.
- The tail and feet are usually pale yellow or orange, and the belly is often marked with salmon.
- Young individuals are black with an iridescent blue tail and gold spots on the head.
Great Plains Skinks in southwestern Iowa are frequently found in prairie grassland with open, low-growing plants. However, they occasionally also live in woodland or semi-arid desert areas.
Great Plains Skinks are very aggressive if threatened!
They hide under rocks, shrubs, or logs but are likely to bite if they are disturbed or handled. So, if you happen to find one, observe with caution!
In addition, they’re aggressive hunters and will eat insects, snails, spiders, and even other lizards.
#3. Common Five-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon fasciatus
- Adults are up to 8.75 inches long.
- 5 stripes are most apparent in hatchlings and fade as the skinks grow.
- Males have orange-red coloring on the jaw during the breeding season.
- Hatchlings are black with light stripes. The black coloring often fades to gray, and the lighter stripes darken.
Look for Common Five-Lined Skinks in southeastern Iowa in wooded areas near rotting stumps, outcrops of rock, and sometimes piles of boards or sawdust. Its diet consists of spiders, beetles, crickets, and other insects.
Females attend to their eggs throughout the incubation period.
They spend almost all of their time defending and caring for the eggs until they hatch!
If you happen to come across a nest, you may notice the mother curled up on top of or around the eggs. She also rolls the eggs to maintain their humidity, moves them back to the nest if they become disturbed, and even eats eggs that aren’t viable!
#4. Northern Prairie Skink
- Plestiodon septentrionalis
- Adults are up to 9 inches long.
- Their coloring is olive-brown with multiple light stripes bordered with dark brown.
- Some individuals have a single stripe in the middle of the back, while others have a pair of stripes.
- The belly is generally a lighter brown than the back and uniform in color.
You’re likely to find Northern Prairie Skinks in open plains and along streambeds in Iowa. They are one of the hardiest species of skinks and can survive extremely cold temperatures.
Northern Prairie Skinks have a fascinating way of staying alive during winter. They burrow below the frost line to stay warm enough not to freeze!
Some scientists consider the Northern Prairie Skink and the Southern Prairie Skink subspecies. However, they don’t live in the same area, and their appearance is so different that most references give both full species status.
#5. Slender Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus attenuatus
- 22 to 47 inches long.
- Coloring is generally brown to black, with whitish markings in the middle of the scales.
- Younger individuals have dark stripes along the back and sides, and older individuals develop faint crossbands.
Slender Glass Lizards live in dry grasslands and open forests in southeastern Iowa.
They eat insects, spiders, small rodents, and small lizards. However, unlike snakes, they do not have flexible jaws, which means they can only eat prey smaller than their head!
Glass lizards are named for their extremely fragile tails, which can break off even without being touched. Slender Glass Lizards are rarely found with their original tail intact because they break so often! If you notice that the end of its tail is tan with no stripes, you can be sure the lizard lost its original tail.
You’re likely to find a Slender Glass Lizard in animal burrows or piles of debris.
There are two subspecies:
- Western Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus attenuatus) have shorter tails.
- Eastern Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus longicaudus) have longer tails.
Do you need additional help identifying lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these lizards have you seen in Iowa?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!