11 Types of Spiny Lizards in New Mexico! (ID Guide)

What kinds of spiny lizards are there in New Mexico?”

common spiny lizards in New Mexico

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 11 different kinds of spiny lizards in New Mexico.


#1. Common Sagebrush Lizard

  • Sceloporus graciosus

types of spiny lizards in New Mexico

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 the US, but only lives in northwestern New Mexico.

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. Desert Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus magister

species of spiny lizards in New Mexico

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 New Mexico!

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!


#3. Prairie Lizard

  • Sceloporus consobrinus

common spiny lizards in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 New Mexico 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! In eastern New Mexico, 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 are hard to catch. If you see one, you’ll probably have more luck observing from a distance than trying to get up close!


#4. Southwestern Fence Lizard

  • Sceloporus cowlesi

types of spiny lizards in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 New Mexico 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.


#5. Slevin’s Bunchgrass Lizard

  • Sceloporus slevini

species of spiny lizards in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 southwestern New Mexico 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 New Mexico 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!


#6. Striped Plateau Lizard

  • Sceloporus virgatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

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

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!


#7. Mountain Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus jarrovi

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 southwestern New Mexico, 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.


#8. Clark’s Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus clarkii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 New Mexico 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!


#9. Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

  • Sceloporus arenicolus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Coloring is light yellowish brown with no pattern except for two grayish lines on the back.
  • Blue patches on the throat and belly are much less pronounced than other spiny lizards.

The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard has the most specific habitat of any spiny lizard in New Mexico.

It only lives in a small area of dunes created by shinnery oak trees. It uses the sand and the root systems of the trees to create burrows to hide in and escape uncomfortable temperatures.

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

When out of their borrows, Dunes Sagebrush Lizards spend their time basking in “blowouts,” which are crater-like holes in the sand.

The small range of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is threatened by cattle grazing and oil industry development, which causes damage to shinnery oak trees and the introduction of invasive species.


#10. Crevice Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus poinsettii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3 to 5.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
  • Coloring is yellowish with a thick black collar bordered with white and thick, dusky bands down the back.
  • Scales are pointed and keeled (raised in the center), giving this species a particularly spiky look.

As their name suggests, Crevice Spiny Lizards live in rocky areas with plenty of cracks and crevices.

Crevice Spiny Lizard Range Map:

They are very timid, so you would be very lucky to see one of these spiny lizards in the wild! They are so nervous and skittish, they have been known to climb straight up a rock face to escape a threat!

Crevice Spiny Lizards also find their food- mainly insects and spiders- in the cracks of their rocky habitat.

Females have the interesting ability to carry their eggs until they hatch, instead of laying them in a nest! There aren’t many places in its habitat suitable for burying eggs, so this adaptation is truly necessary!


#11. Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard

  • Sceloporus bimaculosus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 New Mexico!

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 New Mexico?

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