This lizard occurs along the Pacific Coast and in the Rocky Mountains from southern British Columbia to central California. Square bony scales, a large head on an elongated body and powerful jaws probably give this reptile its common name.
Northern Alligator Lizards are small to medium-sized rough-scaled lizards with short limbs and a long tail. Their body is around 4 inches long and their tail adds an additional 6 inches.
I often find them in grassy, bushy, or rocky openings in forests, but they can also reside in areas of low to moderate development, including in rock retaining walls, woody debris and rock piles. Lizards need the sunny openings to bask in to thermoregulate.
Northern Alligator Lizards are found in cooler and wetter environments than other species of lizards in the United States. This reptile feeds on a variety of food items, including crickets, spiders, beetles, moths, snails, small lizards and baby mice.
Alligator Lizards are characterized by a distinct fold of skin along their lower sides. This allows the body to expand when the lizard is breathing, full of food, or in the case of females, carrying offspring.
This creature has the ability to “release” (autotomize) its tail. The dropped tail acts as a decoy, distracting the potential predator. Over time, the lizard will regenerate a shorter, fatter tail.
Unlike its relative the Southern Alligator Lizard (an egglaying species), this reptile gives birth to live offspring.