36 Types of Lizards Found in California! (ID Guide)

What kinds of lizards can you find in California?”

common lizards in california

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 36 different kinds of lizards in California.

#1. Western Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis tigris

types of lizards in california

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Body coloring is gray-brown to yellowish, with dark bars or spots that form a web-like pattern.
  • Skin folds are present on the neck, making the throat appear wrinkled.
  • Rust-colored patches are often present on the sides of the belly.

You can find Western Whiptail Lizards in California in sandy, rocky, or firmly packed soil.

Their habitat preferences range from open forest to arid scrubland. Western Whiptails eat other lizards, scorpions, spiders, termites, and beetles. As you can see, this lizard is anything but picky!

Their physical characteristics and habitats are so varied that there are sixteen distinct subspecies! As you can see in the map above, five of the subspecies are present throughout the Southwest.

#2. Orange-Throated Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis hyperythra

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The coloring of the dark fields varies from gray to reddish-brown and black.
  • Light stripes run the length of the body.
  • The top of the head is yellow-brown to olive, and the throat is orange, as its name suggests. In males, the entire underside is sometimes orange.

The Orange-Throated Whiptail is the smallest whiptail lizard in California!

Orange-Throated Whiptail Lizards have the smallest range of all whiptails, and it has been reduced by 75% by residential development. Look for them in southern California in washes, streams, and other sandy areas with light, sparse brush.

YouTube video

#3. Common Sagebrush Lizard

  • Sceloporus graciosus

species of lizards in california

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 California.

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!

#4. Western Fence Lizard

  • Sceloporus occidentalis

common lizards in california

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

Here’s why:

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!

YouTube video

#5. Desert Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus magister

types of lizards in california

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.25 to 5.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloring is straw, yellowish, or light brown on the back, and the sides are usually rust-colored.
  • In males, the throat has a blueish-green patch. In females, the head and neck are sometimes orange.

This species is the most aggressive spiny lizard in California!

They often bite when handled, so beware if you come across one in the wild.

Desert Spiny Lizards eat insects and larvae and even other lizards! Though they live in the desert, as their name suggests, they’re comfortable in many habitats, from riverbeds to yucca grassland and mesquite woodland.

Desert Spiny Lizard Range Map:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS

Desert Spiny Lizards find shelter from the intense heat under logs, rocks, and in rodent burrows. You may be lucky enough to spot one coming out of a burrow to bask during the early morning or hunting during the early evening!

YouTube video

#6. Granite Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus woodi

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.25 to 4.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Coloring is generally dark brown to black.
  • Males have unique blue or green marked scales, giving this species an iridescent appearance.

Granite Spiny Lizards have the most unique coloring of all spiny lizards in California!

Granite Spiny Lizard Range Map:

Their scales have a dark background with bright blue-green middles, making the entire body appear almost holographic. Often the entire belly of the male Granite Spiny Lizard is brilliant blue. They are really something to see!

Even though they’re easy to spot because of their lack of camouflage, they’re so quick you’re likely to miss them!

YouTube video

#7. Western Skink

  • Plestiodon skiltonianus

species of lizards in california

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 California!

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.

YouTube video

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.

#8. Gilbert’s Skink

  • Plestiodon gilberti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 4.5 inches long.
  • Coloring is olive or brown, sometimes with dark spotting but most often plain.
  • As this species ages, the tail becomes brick red to orange, and the head is often red.
  • Young Gilbert’s Skinks have more pronounced light stripes on the sides and a wide olive stripe on the back.

These skinks are habitat generalists and live in many environments in California.

You can find them in grassland, desert areas, salt flats, and open woodland. But generally, they prefer rocky areas near streams, where they eat insects and spiders.

There are currently FOUR recognized subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink! However, this may change in the future because scientists are currently studying these subspecies to determine if they are all valid.

  • Greater Brown Skink (P.g. gilberti): The young of this subspecies have a brighter blue tail, and the females are smaller than the males.
  • Northern Brown Skink (P.g. placerensis): The striping that the young exhibit lasts longer into adulthood in this subspecies
  • Variegated Skink (P.g. cancellosus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail tinged with blue.
  • Western Red-Tailed Skink (P.g. rubricaudatus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail with no blue. This is the ONLY subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink found outside of California!

#9. Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard

  • Phrynosoma douglasii

common horned lizards in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 found in northern California 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!

YouTube video

#10. Desert Horned Lizard

  • Phrynosoma platyrhinos

types of horned lizards in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloration is brown, tan, reddish, gray, or black. Wavy, dark blotches dot the back and neck.
  • Blunt snout and short horns.

As its name suggests, the Desert Horned Lizard prefers the arid climate of sandy flats and dunes in desert regions of California. Areas with cactus, creosote, and saltbush are common homes for the Desert Horned Lizard.

Desert Horned Lizard Range Map:

Desert Horned Lizards have a remarkable hidden talent – they’re good dancers!

They often perform mating dances that display intricate body movements, including head bobbing, weaving, and tail movements. While some lizards use body movement displays as a sign of aggression, Desert Horned Lizards use their moves most often to attract a mate!

One of the easiest ways to find a Desert Horned Lizard is to drive slowly in its habitat in the late afternoon. They’re often seen sunning themselves on the warm pavement!

YouTube video

#11. Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard

  • Phrynosoma mcallii

types of horned lizards in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Generally light in color; pale gray, buff, or light brown that closely matches the soil of its habitat.
  • The tail and body are both very flat and low to the ground.

Flat-Tailed Horned Lizards in California have a unique camouflage adaptation.

Their extremely flat shape and coloring nearly eliminate any shadow they might create, allowing them to blend seamlessly with the ground!

Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Range Map:

The Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard’s ability to blend in is crucial since they live in open desert areas with little vegetation for shelter. Their main food source is harvester ants that also live in the desert, but they also eat other insects.

YouTube video

This species is endangered and has the smallest range of any horned lizard in California. Their habitat is threatened by human disturbance, especially off-road vehicle use and geothermal power plants.

#12. Coast Horned Lizard

  • Phrynosoma blainvillii

types of horned lizards in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Two rows of pointed fringe scales line either side of the body.
  • Coloring is yellow to brown, reddish, or gray with dark, wavy lines.

The Coast Horned Lizard is found ONLY in California!

It tolerates a wide variety of habitats, but its range is limited because of urbanization and farming. Its main requirements are open lowlands with plenty of sunlight for basking, loose soil for burrowing, and plenty of insects to eat.

Coast Horned Lizard Range Map:

Interestingly, an invasive ant species from Argentina is causing a population decline here in California. The Coast Horned Lizard is a bit of a picky eater and doesn’t like the taste of this new species! These  Argentine ants are taking over, making the tastier native ants hard to find. 

The Coast Horned Lizard is an expert at blending into its surroundings!

Their coloring and spiky scales help them blend so well with the surrounding soil that they’re almost impossible to spot!

YouTube video

#13. California Legless Lizard

  • Anniella pulchra

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4.5 to 7 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Two color morphs exist:
    • Silver, gray, or beige with a dark line on the back and a yellow belly.
    • Black above without lines and with dark blotches on the belly.
  • Their eyes are very small.

North American Legless Lizards are small, burrowing lizards that can definitely be confused with snakes at first glance. Some differences between these lizards and true snakes are their movable eyelids, fixed jaws, and lack of a forked tongue.

Legless lizards prefer habitats with sandy, loose soil.

You’re likely to find them on beaches or river banks. Legless lizards are adapted for burrowing and spend most of their time underground, but they come to the surface at dusk or nighttime to feed. They eat insects, spiders, and small moths.

Legless lizards in California are considered a species of greatest concern.

Their populations are severely reduced because of agricultural and housing development, as well as invasive plants. Other threats to their survival include golf course development, off-road vehicle use, trampling by humans, and sand mining.

Four closely related species of Anniella pulchra have been given full species status recently. Research into differences in their DNA profile and visual appearance has made this possible. The 4 new species, which only live in California are:

  • Southern California Legless Lizard (Anniella stebbinsi): Coloring is light olive-brown with a dark stripe down the back.
  • Bakersfield Legless Lizard (Anniella grinnelli): Coloring is olive with a single light stripe down the back.
  • Southern Sierra Legless Lizard (Anniella campi): Coloring is yellow-gray with darker stripes on the back and sides.
  • Temblor Legless Lizard (Anniella alexanderae): Coloring is pale olive on the back with gray sides.

#14. Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard

  • Gambelia wislizenii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to17 inches long, including the tail.
  • This species is large, with a round body and tail, and a large head.
  • Coloring is gray, pink, brown, or yellowish-brown with dark spots.
  • Long-Nosed Leopard Lizards have two color phases:
    • Dark phase – coloring is nearly as dark as the spots on its back, hiding them from view.
    • Light phase – coloring is as above with spots clearly defined.

Long-Nosed Leopard Lizards live in dry climates with little vegetation. They prefer rocky outcroppings for basking and avoid dense grass or shrubs because it limits their running ability.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

This lizard is quick!

It runs on its back legs in a short burst to escape predators and to ambush prey. One report even says the Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard can reach Mach-1 or the speed of sound – but this could be a bit of an exaggeration. 🙂

Long-Nosed Leopard Lizards are ambush predators by nature. But, they’re also omnivorous and have one of the most varied diets of all the lizards in California! Their diet includes soft leaves, blossoms, berries, insects of all kinds, spiders, lizards, small rodents, and even juvenile snakes!

#15. Common Side-Blotched Lizard

  • Uta stansburiana

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

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.

#16. Ornate Tree Lizard

  • Urosaurus ornatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 1.5 to 2.25 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloring ranges from dark brown and black to tan or gray.
  • Dusky crossbands or blotches are common.
  • In males, the throat is orange, yellow, green, or pale blue, and there are blue patches on the belly. The throat is white, orange, or yellow in females, and the belly is white or tan.

Ornate Tree Lizards prefer to live near riverbanks in desert and foothill regions.

Despite its name, this species spends most of its time perched on rocks. In fact, you can even find them in treeless areas in their range! However, occasionally they will climb trees if they are startled or searching for food.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Ornate Tree Lizards are very well adapted to developed land, and their numbers are steady even in highly populated areas. This is a bit surprising, considering they have one of the shortest lifespans of all the lizards in California! They rarely live longer than three years.

#17. Great Basin Collared Lizard

  • Crotaphytus bicinctores

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.5-4.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloring is brown to grayish with small white dots and dashes all over the back.
  • Two dark collar markings edged in white appear on the neck.
  • Males often have crossbands in pink and orange, a bluish-gray throat, and black patches on the neck. Females lack these markings.

Look for Great Basin Collared Lizards in eastern California in desert habitats with little plant life.

You can find them near rocky outcroppings, which they use for basking to warm themselves and as shelter to hide from predators.

Here’s an interesting fact: Younger males sometimes pretend to be pregnant to avoid fighting with an older, stronger adversary!

Female Great Basin Collared Lizards develop bright orange markings when nesting, and male juveniles sometimes develop similar markings as a defensive strategy. What a creative way to stay out of trouble!

#18. Baja California Collared Lizard

  • Crotaphytus vestigium

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to 5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Grayish brown coloring with thin, white crossbars. White spots and dashes on the body in between crossbars.
  • Two black collar markings on the neck.
  • The tail is flattened and has one whitish stripe along the middle.

Look for Baja California Collared Lizards in southern California in desert canyons and lava flows. They live primarily in rocky habitats with little or no vegetation.

USGS – United States Geological Survey

Baja California Collared Lizards are powerful runners!

They can move at up to 16 miles per hour. When racing around at this speed, they keep their front legs off the ground and balance deftly on their back legs.

This unusual, acrobatic motion is called bipedal running.

YouTube video

#19. Western Banded Gecko

  • Coleonyx variegatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 3 inches long.
  • The eyelids are movable, and the pupils are vertical.
  • Coloring is pink to pale yellow with brown bands on the back and tail. The belly is white to off-white.
  • When handled or disturbed, this species makes a small squeaking noise.

Western Banded Geckos in southern California have adapted to an arid climate.

By being nocturnal and spending much of their time underground, they can withstand their habitat’s lack of rain and intense heat.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

You’re likely to find Western Banded Geckos around rocks or debris, which they use for cover when they are above ground. They eat insects and spiders.

Like many of their relatives, Western Banded Geckos are excellent at climbing and can scale vertical rocks and walls!

There are four subspecies of the Western Banded Gecko in California. They are all so similar in coloring and pattern that it’s hard to distinguish them by appearance. The four subspecies are:

Desert Banded Gecko (C.v. variegatus)

Tuscon Banded Gecko (C.v. bogerti)

San Diego Banded Gecko (C.v. abbotti)

Utah Banded Gecko (C.v. utahensis)

#20. Barefoot Gecko

  • Coleonyx switaki

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 3.5 inches long.
  • Coloring is pale beige to reddish-brown, with brown spots.
  • This species also has lighter spots that form crossbands on the back.

Barefoot Geckos prefer flatlands and canyons with plenty of rock outcrops and boulders.

They are nocturnal and prone to hiding in deep crevices, so you’re fortunate if you find one in the wild! They also have a limited range, which is only in a small area in southern California!

Like many other species, Barefoot Geckos squeak if they are disturbed or handled. However, they also have a unique display habit if they feel threatened. They’ll walk away from a potential predator with their tail curled up and waving in the air.

This may make them look larger or more dangerous, and therefore, less appetizing!

#21. Leaf-Toed Gecko

  • Phyllodactylus xanti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.
  • As its name suggests, the splayed toes of this species resemble a tropical leaf.
  • Coloring is pink, brown, or gray with dark brown spots and a pale, whitish belly.

The Leaf-Toed Gecko is only found in rocky terrain in far southern California. You might spot them near streams or rivers, but they have been known to live far from water as well. Leaf-Toed Geckos eat insects and spiders.

There are two subspecies, but only one in the US: the Peninsular Lead-Toed Gecko, P.x. nocticolus. This is the larger of the two subspecies.

Like many other gecko species, Leaf-Toed Geckos are vocal when disturbed and will squeak if handled.

#22 – #24. Bi-Coastal Geckos

These three non-native Geckos in the United States have all been introduced in Florida and California.

They arrived via agriculture and pet trade, and because they are so well adapted to their environment, they quickly spread throughout their range. They live in urban and suburban areas and are frequently found inside buildings. All three species eat insects, keeping the buildings they inhabit relatively pest-free!

#22. Moorish Wall Gecko

  • Tarentola mauritanica

Moorish Wall Geckos are 4.5 to 6 inches long, with spiny skin. They are light yellowish-gray in color. Their native range is Mediterranean, Africa, and Europe.

#23. Ringed Wall Gecko

  • Tarentola annularis

Ringed Wall Geckos are 7 to 8 inches long and are dark brown to sandy gray in color. They have splotchy, broken lines on their back in a darker brown color. Their natural range is Northern Africa.

#24. Indo-Pacific Gecko

  • Hemidactylus garnotii

Indo-Pacific Geckos are 4 to 5.5 inches long. They are brownish-gray to dark brown with a lemon yellow belly. This species is parthenogenetic, meaning it is all-female, and its offspring are genetic clones of the mother. Its native range is southeast Asia, the East Indies, and the South Sea islands.

#25. Mediterranean House Gecko

  • Hemidactylus turcicus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.
  • The pupils are vertical, and the eyes are large and round with immovable eyelids.
  • This species has two color phases for camouflage.
    • Pale phase: the coloring is light pink to pale yellow or white with brown or gray blotches.
    • Dark phase: the coloring darkens to gray or brown, obscuring the blotches on the back.

The Mediterranean Gecko is NOT native to California! The Mediterranean House Gecko was introduced to California via imported plants carrying their egg clutches. They’re adaptable to so many environments that their population quickly outpaced any of our native geckos!

Mediterranean House Geckos are nocturnal, but this won’t stop you from being able to find them. They’re considered an “urbanized” species, which means they’re just as happy to live inside your house as they are in the wild!

Virginia Herpetological Society

They eat insects attracted to lights and are commonly found on walls, ceilings, and window screens in homes. Outside, look for them in rock crevices or cracked tree trunks.

In addition to being comfortable around humans, Mediterranean House Geckos in California are a vocal species. The mating call of males is a series of clicks, and they frequently make a squeaking noise if threatened.

Even though Mediterranean House Geckos aren’t native to California, they’re so well-recognized that they belong on any list of geckos in our area.

#26. Zebra-Tailed Lizard

  • Callisaurus draconides

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Zebra-Tailed Lizards are distinctly patterned, with white dots on the back and black and white stripes on the sides and tail.
  • Coloring is mainly black and white with a yellow-orange wash along the sides of the body.
  • This species has very long arms and legs, which help it run at top speed.

Zebra-Tailed Lizards prefer the hard-packed, open ground of desert washes, hardpan, and rock surfaces. They often live where plants are scarce and like open areas with plenty of room to run.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

The Zebra-Tailed Lizard curls its tail over its back and dashes forward at incredible speeds when it runs!

YouTube video

This gives predators a brief look at the bold markings on the underside of its tail. Then, when the lizard stops running, it hides the pattern to confuse its predator. What a crafty way to avoid becoming lunch!

#27. Northern Alligator Lizard

  • Elgaria coerulea

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 incredibly 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 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.

#28. Southern Alligator Lizard

  • Elgaria multicarinata

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.

#29. 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.

#30. Long-Tailed Brush Lizard

  • Urosaurus graciosus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 1.9 to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • This species is slim and long with a small head.
  • Coloring is gray with black crossbars, although it can change color quickly to pale tan if captured.
  • Males have a blue or green patch on each side of the belly. In addition, both males and females have a red, orange, or lemon-yellow throat.

The Long-Tailed Brush Lizard is found in desert habitats with scattered plant life, including its favored creosote bush. Exposed root systems of the creosote plant serve as shelter for this species.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Long-tailed Brush Lizards are masters at blending into their environment!

They have a bark-like pattern and coloring that allows them to camouflage themselves against bushes and trees. They’ll stay perfectly still lying on a branch, and you may walk right past one without ever seeing it!

#31. Mojave Fringe-Toed Lizard

  • Uma scoparia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.75 to 4.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloring is gray-brown with black, eye-like spots. This helps with camouflage in its habitat’s sandy terrain.
  • During the breeding season, this species develops a yellow-green tint near the base of the tail and pink spots on the side.

The Mojave Fringe-Toed Lizard spends its life in very arid regions of the southern California desert. It lives in areas of fine sand and scant vegetation and primarily eats insects. However, it also eats spiders, seeds, and flowers if they’re available.

Fringe-toed Lizards get their name from the long scales on their feet. This fringe helps them move around in the loose sand of their habitat.

Its sandy, speckled coloring camouflages the Mojave Fringe-Toed Lizard from predators like roadrunners, snakes, and badgers, but it also makes it susceptible to human threats. Off-road vehicles are hazardous to this lizard because riders cannot see them in time to avoid running over them.

#32. Desert Night Lizard

  • Xantusia vigilis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 1.5 to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • This species is slender with velvety, soft skin and small scales.
  • Coloring is olive, gray, or dark brown with light brown and black blotches.
  • Night Lizards have no eyelids, and their pupils are vertical.

Desert Night Lizards are a reclusive, small species that lives in desert habitats. They spend most of their time under the cover of objects in their range. Look for Desert Night Lizards in California under fallen branches, rocks, cow chips, and dead brush.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Night Lizards get their name from their crepuscular nature, meaning they’re most active at twilight.

During the summer months, they may switch to a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid the heat.

When it was first discovered, the Desert Night Lizard was thought to be exceedingly rare. However, researchers have discovered that it’s one of the most abundant lizards in California. It’s just very good at hiding!

#33. Banded Rock Lizard

  • Petrosaurus mearnsi

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Banded Rock Lizards are flat-bodied and thick with large limbs and a large head.
  • Coloring is olive, brown, or gray with bluish-white spots. Wavy, dark crossbars on the back turn to defined bands on the tail.
  • Males have two color phases: their spots become bluer around females, and their throat is more highly patterned.
  • Gravid or pregnant females develop orange coloring above the eyes and on the throat.

The Banded Rock Lizard is the best rock-climbing lizard in California!

It can easily scale rock surfaces and even climb the underside of boulders and cliffs! Banded Rock Lizards prefer narrow, shady canyons with plenty of large rocks to show off their skill.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

They are a wary, nervous species and will often climb under rocks to hide from threats. If you find a Banded Rock Lizard and manage to catch it, beware – it often bites when handled. You’re better off to observe from a distance and watch this fascinating lizard climb like a pro!

#24. Desert Iguana

  • Dipsosaurus dorsalis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to 16 inches long, including the tail.
  • This species is large and round-bodied with a small rounded head and a long tail.
  • Coloring is pale gray with rows of rust-edged light-gray spots.
  • The belly is pale with a pinkish-red cast during mating season.

Desert Iguanas in California are closely associated with creosote brush.

In the southern part of their range, where creosote is less plentiful, they may be found in desert scrubland or rocky terrain.

Look for them basking in the sun even in the heat of the day since Desert Iguanas can withstand temperatures most other animals avoid. Typically, they bask on rocks or dunes near their burrows. However, they won’t seek shelter in their burrows until their body temperature reaches 113 degrees Fahrenheit!

Desert Iguanas eat mainly plants such as the leaves, buds, and flowers of the creosote bush. However, they also eat insects and carrion for additional nutrients.

#35. Common Chuckwalla

  • Sauromalus ater

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to18 inches long, including the tail.
  • Chuckwallas are large and flat, with loose folds of skin on the sides of their neck.
  • Coloring is generally black on the head, chest, and limbs, sometimes flecked with light gray. The back is variable – black, red, and light gray coloring are common.

The Common Chuckwalla is prevalent in southern California throughout its desert habitat. You can find it on nearly every hillside, lava flow, and outcropping in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

Credit: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Common Chuckwallas are easy to spot on the sides of roads, basking on rocks or pavement in the sun. To me, their rounded bodies and small, pointed heads make them look a bit like a balloon animal!

If disturbed, Common Chuckwallas retreat into rock crevices where they gulp air and inflate their bodies to wedge themselves into the crevice.

#36. Gila Monster

  • Heloderma suspectum

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 9 to 14 inches long.
  • This species is large and heavy, with a short, thick tail.
  • Coloring is black mottled with pink, orange, and yellow. The pattern of mottling often looks like beadwork.
  • The scales on the back of the Gila Monster are rounded and beadlike. Scales on the belly are flat and square.

The Gila Monster is the ONLY venomous lizard in California!

It’s recognizable by its thick body and tail, and rounded nose. Gila Monsters prefer rocky desert habitats with sparse brush or succulent plant life. Look for them near intermittent streams and farm irrigation systems, which they use as a water source.

Gila Monsters are venomous, but they rely more on their powerful crushing jaws to subdue their prey. They eat small mammals, birds and their eggs, lizards, insects, and carrion. While they primarily stay on the ground, Gila Monsters will climb rocks or trees searching for food like small birds in nests.

If you find a Gila Monster, observe this dangerous reptile from a safe distance!

Though it isn’t fatal, the Gila Monster’s Bite is excruciating. They have small, razor-sharp teeth that dig into the skin and inject their venom. Unfortunately, there’s no anti-venom or treatment for the effects of the bite. People who’ve been bitten by a Gila Monster describe the pain as hot lava coursing through their veins!

The effects can last for hours or days, depending on how much venom someone is exposed to.

YouTube video

One of the two subspecies of this fascinating lizard in California: The Banded Gila Monster, H.s. cinctum. the Reticulate Gila Monster, H.s. suspectum, doesn’t live in California but in neighboring states. 

As their names suggest, they’re easily identifiable by the type of pattern on their back. Banded Gila Monsters with a striped pattern of crossbars are less common but have a greater range. Fishnet-patterned Reticulate Gila Monsters are more prevalent but limited in range.

Do you need additional help identifying lizards?

Try this field guide!

Which of these lizards have you seen in California?

Leave a comment below!

Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!

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