“What kinds of lizards can you find in Colorado?”
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 16 different kinds of lizards in Colorado.
#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 is one of the fastest lizards in Colorado.
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. Western Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis tigris
- 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 western Colorado 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.
#3. 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 Colorado.
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. Plateau Striped Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis velox
- 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- 6 or 7 light stripes run down the back, with dark stripes in-between, ranging from black to dark brown.
- The tail is bright, royal blue in young lizards, and fades to light blue in adults.
- The belly is pale, buff, or white, with a light-blue mark on the chin or throat sometimes present.
In southwestern Colorado, you can typically spot Plateau Striped Whiptails in mountain forests of pine, juniper, oak, and fir trees.
They eat insects like termites, beetles, and grasshoppers, as well as spiders.
The Plateau Striped Whiptail Lizard’s most interesting feature is how it reproduces: the species is all-female!
Nesting adults lay unfertilized eggs, which grow and hatch as genetic clones of the mother. This lizard wins the award for self-sufficiency!
#5. Colorado Checkered Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis neotesselata
- 2.5 to 4 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Light gray stripes and bars form a checkerboard pattern on the dark gray back.
- The tops of the thighs have many pale spots, often creating a webbed pattern.
The Colorado Checkered Whiptail is ONLY found in mid to southeastern Colorado. Its range and population are so small that you’d be lucky to ever spot one in the wild!
These whiptail lizards prefer to live on hillsides and canyons with yucca trees and prickly pear cactus. They eat insects, including caterpillars, moths, and termites, and also spiders.
Colorado Checkered Whiptails are, unfortunately, considered extinct in most of their original habitat and now only have small, scattered populations.
#6. Desert Spiny Lizard
- Sceloporus magister
- 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 Colorado!
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 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!
#7. Prairie Lizard
- Sceloporus consobrinus
- 3.5 to 7.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is light reddish-brown with a light brown stripe down the spine.
- Orange or red coloring on the lips and chin is sometimes present.
Look for Prairie Lizards in eastern Colorado in habitats with lots of places to perch, including open forests, tall grass fields, or even dunes. Their diet is made up of insects and spiders they can easily subdue.
Prairie Lizard Range Map:
These spiny lizards are one of the best climbers in their family! Prairie Lizards spend most of their time off the ground perched in trees, on fences, and even on sunflowers.
In addition to climbing, Prairie Lizards can run so fast that they’re hard to catch. If you see one, you’ll probably have more luck observing from a distance than trying to get up close!
#8. 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 Colorado 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.
#9. Many-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon multivirgatus
- Adults are up to 7.5 inches long.
- The tail is much longer than the body compared to other skinks: roughly 1 to 1.5 times as long.
- Light and dark stripes run the length of the body.
- During the breeding season, many males develop orange or red lips.
Many-Lined Skinks in Colorado prefer areas with water or moist soil.
They live in various habitats, from mountain areas to vacant lots and even city dumps! Their primary food source is ant larvae and other insects.
Young Many-Lined Skinks have bright blue tails. A uniquely colored tail is a defensive strategy that helps attract predators away from the skink’s body! If a predator tries to bite or grab the skink, it can drop its tail and escape!
There are two subspecies of this skink.
- Northern Many-Lined Skink (P.m. multivirgatus) generally has more well-defined stripes and is almost always gray and black.
- Variable Skink (P.m. epipleurotus) comes in a variety of colors and patterns. The subspecies’ ranges don’t overlap, and some scientists consider them two separate species!
#10. Texas Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma cornutum
- 2.5 to 5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring can vary from yellow to reddish or gray-brown, with a light stripe on the back.
- In addition to the two long central horns, two rows of spiky scales, called fringe scales, line the sides of the body.
The Texas Horned Lizard is best known for shooting blood from its eyes to defend against predators!
These reptiles are even able to aim the foul-tasting blood directly into the predator’s mouth! Talk about biting off more than you can chew!
Texas Horned Lizards are found in southeastern Colorado in open, sandy land without much plant life. Some cactus or mesquite may be present, but their habitat is mostly rocky with loose soil or sand to burrow in and lay eggs. They can lay clutches of up to 50 eggs at a time!
Texas Horned Lizard Range Map:
Almost the entire diet of the Texas Horned Lizard is made up of ants. However, they do occasionally eat beetles and grasshoppers.
These gorgeous lizards also make popular pets and unfortunately, many have been released outside of their normal range. Natural populations are threatened because of habitat loss, the introduction of fire ants, and pesticide use.
#11. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 1.75 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on the neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and each side.
Greater Short-Horned Lizards prefer to live in Colorado in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is generally semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent but heavy rain.
Greater Short-Horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-Horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet. They also eat grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, and even snails!
This species is one of only two types of horned lizards that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#12. Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard
- Gambelia wislizenii
- 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.
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 Colorado! Their diet includes soft leaves, blossoms, berries, insects of all kinds, spiders, lizards, small rodents, and even juvenile snakes!
#13. 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.
#14. Ornate Tree Lizard
- Urosaurus ornatus
- 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.
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 Colorado! They rarely live longer than three years.
#15. Eastern Collared Lizard
- Crotaphytus collaris
- 3-4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- This lizard has a large, broad head and chunky body with a round tail.
- There are two dark collars on the neck, a thinner one near the head and a thicker one near the body.
- Coloring is variable: greenish-blue, olive, brown, or yellow are all common. Females are generally darker and less colorful.
Eastern Collared Lizards can be found in southern Colorado in desert shrubland, open juniper-pinon forest, and grassland. They prefer areas with rocks for basking, open space for running, and lots of sunlight.
The Eastern Collared Lizard is wildly territorial!
Adult males will not live in the same area, and if they’re placed in the same enclosure, they’ll fight to the death. You might see them displaying dominance by standing on their hind legs, inflating their throat, and weaving from side to side.
Eastern Collared Lizards aren’t just aggressive toward one another – they’re also powerful predators! Their sharp teeth and strong jaws make catching a meal easy. They have been known to eat large insects, reptiles, and even other Collared Lizards!
#16. Common Lesser Earless Lizard
- Holbrookia maculata
- Up to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent, and 4 to 5.25 inches total.
- Tan to brown with pale stripes along the back.
- Males have pairs of black bars behind the arms, which females typically lack.
- Gravid (pregnant) females develop pink, yellow, or orange coloring on their backs.
Common Lesser Earless Lizards are found in eastern Colorado in tallgrass prairie with sandy soil.
They are highly camouflaged and almost impossible to see on the ground unless they’re moving.
If you do spot a Common Lesser Earless Lizard, you might notice that it doesn’t have ear openings like other lizards! This is an adaptation that allows it to spend most of its life burrowed under the loose soil of its habitat.
There are up to NINE distinct subspecies of the Lesser Earless Lizard! However, there’s some disagreement in the scientific community about whether all subspecies deserve a separate name. They’re all very similar in looks, and more research is needed.
Do you need additional help identifying lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these lizards have you seen in Colorado?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!