“What kinds of lizards can you find in Washington?”
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 7 different kinds of lizards in Washington.
#1. Common Sagebrush Lizard
- Sceloporus graciosus
- 1.9 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is gray or brown with a light stripe on each side, a black bar at the shoulder, and blue patches on the belly.
- Unusually long, almost spidery back claws.
This species is the most widespread spiny lizard in Washington.
Common Sagebrush Lizards are typically found in sagebrush fields, as their name suggests, but you can also find them in grasslands and among dunes. They are most active during daylight hours.
Common Sagebrush Lizard Range Map:
These spiny lizards eat a wide variety of insects and even scorpions! They hibernate during winter when temperatures drop, and food becomes scarce.
The easiest way to tell if you’ve found a Common Sagebrush Lizard is to look at its belly. The brilliant blue spots on its throat and abdomen are a dead giveaway!
#2. Western Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus occidentalis
- 2.25 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Black, gray, or dark brown coloring with uneven lighter blotches.
- The sides of the belly are blue, and the backs of the limbs are orange or yellow.
If you see a dark lizard on the ground or a fence, chances are you’ve found a Western Fence Lizard.
They’re the most commonly seen lizard within their range, and you can spot them on fenceposts, lumber piles, and even the sides of buildings! They aren’t picky about their habitat and live in most ecosystems except for the desert.
Western Fence Lizard Range Map:
A fascinating talent of Western Fence Lizards is that they can help lower YOUR risk of Lyme disease.
This spiny lizard’s blood can actually kills the Lyme Bacteria that many ticks carry! So once an infected tick feeds on the lizard’s blood, they’re cured!
#3. Western Skink
- Plestiodon skiltonianus
- Adults are up to 8.5 inches long.
- This species has a broad brown stripe with black edges on the back, bordered in white on each side.
- The tail is normally pale blue or gray, but the throat and underside of the tail turn red-orange during the breeding season.
- Young Western Skink’s tails are brilliant blue.
The Western Skink prefers to live in grassland or pine-oak forests near rocky streams and hillsides. This species primarily eats insects and spiders.
You might have trouble finding Western Skinks in Washington!
Even though they are common, they are very secretive! They spend most of their time under rocks or in burrows.
Like some other lizard species, the Western Skink is capable of autotomy, which is the severing of its own tail when it’s under threat. Once the tail detaches, it continues to move and wriggle, distracting the predator so the skink can escape. Now THAT is a unique way of dealing with stress!
WARNING: If you’re squeamish, this video might not be for you. Please remember, the skink does this as a defensive measure and isn’t harmed.
There are three subspecies of the Western Skink.
- Skilton’s Skink, P.s. skiltonianus, is the most widespread subspecies.
- Great Basin Skink, P.s. utahensis, tends to live in more rocky areas.
- Coronado Skink, P.s. interparietalis is only found in the southern half of San Diego County in the US.
#4. Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma douglasii
- 1.25 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- A single row of fringe scales lines the sides of the body.
The Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard is commonly found in Washington in rocky terrain with pockets of fine, loose soil. It prefers open plains with sagebrush or open pine forests.
These horned lizards are more tolerant of colder temperatures than most other lizards. They’re even able to live in mountainous regions at elevations of up to 11,000 feet!
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard Range Map:
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizards are almost always found near ants! This is because ants are their primary food source, and they often lie in wait outside colonies.
Its primary defense against predators is to bury itself in the soil with a “shimmying” motion, moving from side to side until it’s buried in the sand! Check out the video below to see how they do it!
#5. Common Side-Blotched Lizard
- Uta stansburiana
- 1.5 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is brownish, occasionally blue-gray, with a blue to black blotch on either side of the chest.
- In the light color phase, this species often has white speckles dotting its back.
Common Side-Blotched Lizards are comfortable in many different habitats. Look for them in sandy, rocky, or hardpan soil with grass, shrubs, and trees. They are abundant in their range and easy to find by concentrating on the ground where they spend most of their time.
There are three separate morphs of the male Side-Blotched Lizard, and interestingly, this plays a huge role in the mating habits of this species.
They employ a Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism with one morph being dominant over the second (like paper over rock) but not over the third (like scissors cutting paper). The result of this unique mechanism is a “rotation” of the most common morph each breeding season! The three morphs are listed below:
- Orange-throated males are the largest and most dominant morph and often breed with harems of females in a single season. They outmaneuver and intimidate blue-throated males, but are often outwitted by yellow-throated males that mimic females.
- Blue-throated males are intermediate in size and generally only breed with one female during a mating season. Therefore, they’re less likely to be fooled by a yellow-throated male but often are “beat out” for mating by orange-throated males.
- Yellow-throated males mimic female Side-blotched Lizards when confronted with other male morphs. In this way, they often escape the aggression of orange-throated males but can’t easily “steal” a female from a blue-throated male.
#6. Northern Alligator Lizard
- Elgaria coerulea
- 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.
If you find a Northern Alligator Lizard in Washington, chances are it is the Northwestern subspecies.
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 its subspecies 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.
#7. Southern Alligator Lizard
- Elgaria multicarinata
- 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!
Southern Alligator Lizards in Washington 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.
Do you need additional help identifying lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these lizards have you seen in Washington?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!