“What kinds of spiny lizards are there in Arizona?”
When you hear the name “spiny lizard”, you might picture an animal with long, sharp spikes like a porcupine. I know I did when I first started learning about spiny lizards!
However, the name refers to the lizards’ pointed scales, which look like deadly spikes but are surprisingly soft to the touch.
Today, you’ll learn about the 8 different kinds of spiny lizards in Arizona.
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#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 Arizona.
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. 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 Arizona!
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 are comfortable in many habitats, from riverbeds to yucca grassland and mesquite woodland.
Desert Spiny Lizards find shelter from the intense heat under logs and 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. Southwestern Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus cowlesi
- 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.
Until recent studies confirmed its DNA, Southwestern Fence Lizards were considered a subspecies of the Western Fence Lizard!
Southwestern Fence Lizards prefer habitats in southeastern Arizona with plenty of places to perch, including rock formations and dunes. Their food sources are spiders and insects, which they catch while in their perch.
Southwestern Fence Lizard Range Map:
Southwestern Fence Lizards spend most of their time perched in trees or fences. If you see one, get a good look – chances are it will be gone before you know it! They’re quick to hide if threatened.
#7. Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard
- Sceloporus slevini
- 1.5 to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring includes shades of brown with an orange stripe on either side of the body.
- Males have blue patches on the belly.
Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizards live primarily in southeastern Arizona in mountain areas above 6,000 ft. and prefer sunny, open woods. Their primary food source is insects including, wasps and beetles.
Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard Range Map:
It’s more common to hear a Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard in Arizona than to see one.
They are small and fast, prone to hiding, and move quickly from their hiding spots. If you hear a rustling noise at your feet, it could be a Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard scurrying away!
#8. Striped Plateau Lizard
- Sceloporus virgatus
- 1.75 to 3 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring is brownish with a pronounced striped pattern: two orange or light brown stripes on each side of the body, outlined in darker brown.
- A small blue patch can be seen on either side of the throat in both males and females.
The Striped Plateau Lizard lives in mountainous terrain with oak and coniferous trees. The species is abundant near streams with sandy or rocky bottoms.
An unusual feature of the female Striped Plateau Lizard is that their blue patches turn orange during the breeding season.
Larger and brighter orange spots signal to male Striped Plateau Lizards that a female is a good selection for mating. And if you see a Striped Plateau Lizard with orange spots instead of blue, look out for babies!
#9. Mountain Spiny Lizard
- Sceloporus jarrovi
- 1.75 to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- The coloring of the scales is black with blue-green or pinkish middles, forming a mesh pattern on the back.
- A black collar around the neck forms a thick band between the head and body.
In southern Arizona, the Mountain Spiny Lizard lives in rocky canyons and hillsides. It is an agile climber but prefers rock bluffs and boulders over trees. They mostly eat insects and spiders.
Mountain Spiny Lizard Range Map:
Mountain Spiny Lizards are one of the few lizard species that give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. They give birth to between 2 and 14 offspring every year, in May or June.
#10. Clark’s Spiny Lizard
- Sceloporus clarkii
- 2.75 to 5.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring is gray to blue-green, with black or gray bands on the arms.
- The scales on the back are long and pointed, ending in sharp spines.
Your best bet for spotting Clark’s Spiny Lizards in Arizona is in the trees.
Even then, you’re most likely to hear one instead of seeing one because even though they are a relatively large species, they are very shy!
Clark’s Spiny Lizard Range Map:
In fact, it usually takes two people to get a photo of a Clark’s Spiny Lizard. One person to distract the lizard while the other quietly sneaks up on it from behind.
They’ll often run around trees or rocks as a defensive strategy, keeping to the opposite side of a threat. If you’re lucky enough to see this behavior in the wild, it may remind you of a squirrel being chased!
#13. Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard
- Sceloporus bimaculosus
- 5 to 5.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring is pale gray to brown or straw. Dark lines run from the corners of the eyes down the back.
- Males have two long blue-green patches on the sides that females lack.
The Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard prefers a semi-arid desert habitat and usually lives near thickets, rock formations, or old buildings.
Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard Range Map:Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
The Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard is one of the largest spiny lizards in Arizona!
Even for a lizard, it has a strikingly long tail. It can be up to twice as long as the lizard’s body and ends in a sharp point.
Do you need additional help identifying spiny lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these spiny lizards have you seen in Arizona?
Leave a comment below!