“What kinds of lizards can you find in Utah?”
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 21 different kinds of lizards in Utah.
#1. 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 Utah 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. 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 Utah.
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!
#3. 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!
#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 southeastern Utah, 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. 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 Utah!
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!
#6. 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 Utah!
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.
#7. 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 prefer areas with water or moist soil in southeastern Utah.
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!
#8. 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 Utah 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 in Utah that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#9. Desert Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma platyrhinos
- 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 western Utah. 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!
#10. 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 Utah! Their diet includes soft leaves, blossoms, berries, insects of all kinds, spiders, lizards, small rodents, and even juvenile snakes!
#11. 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.
#12. 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 Utah! They rarely live longer than three years.
#13. 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 southeastern Utah 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!
#14. Great Basin Collared Lizard
- Crotaphytus bicinctores
- 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 Utah 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!
#15. 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 southeastern Utah 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.
#16. Western Banded Gecko
- Coleonyx variegatus
- 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 southwestern Utah 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.
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 Utah. 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)
#17. Zebra-Tailed Lizard
- Callisaurus draconides
- 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.
The Zebra-Tailed Lizard curls its tail over its back and dashes forward at incredible speeds when it runs!
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!
#18. Desert Night Lizard
- Xantusia vigilis
- 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 Utah under fallen branches, rocks, cow chips, and dead brush.
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 Utah. It’s just very good at hiding!
#19. Desert Iguana
- Dipsosaurus dorsalis
- 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 far southwestern Utah 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.
#20. Common Chuckwalla
- Sauromalus ater
- 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 southwestern Utah 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.
#21. Gila Monster
- Heloderma suspectum
- 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 Utah!
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.
There are two subspecies of this fascinating lizard, but only one lives in Utah: The Banded Gila Monster, H.s. cinctum. The Reticulate Gila Monster, H.s. suspectum, is the other subspecies.
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 Utah?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!