4 Types of Spiny Lizards Found in California! (ID Guide)
“What kinds of spiny lizards are there in California?”
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 4 different kinds of spiny lizards in California.
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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 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!
#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 lizards 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:
One of the most fascinating talents of Western Fence Lizards is that they can help lower YOUR risk of Lyme disease.
These spiny lizards have blood that actually kills the Lyme Bacteria that many ticks carry! So once an infected tick feeds on the lizard’s blood, they’re cured!
#3. 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 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 are 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 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!
#4. Granite Spiny Lizard
- Sceloporus woodi
- 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!
Do you need additional help identifying spiny lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these spiny lizards have you seen in California?
Leave a comment below!
I saw several granite spiny lizards while hiking in the Santa Ana mountains..they are distinctly large and quite beautiful