Prairie Lizard

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While exploring this glade in Missouri, I can across a small, grayish brown, rough-scaled lizard that I’ve never seen in the wild before.

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This is a common species of open forests or along edges of woods and fields. It often lives around country homes and rock gardens, split rail fences and stacks of firewood.

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Adult range from 4-7 inches in total length, with their tail being over half of their total length. Males are easily differentiated from females by two bright blue patches on their underside that females lack.

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These lizards are extremely fast. When startled, they will often seek refuge in nearby vegetation or burrows. They also commonly escapes capture by running up trees.

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The Prairie Lizard eats a wide variety of insects and spiders. It was neat to see these cool creatures while visiting the “Show Me State.”

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Western Whiptail

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This is a classic desert species of lizard that ranges throughout most of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It has been one of the most commonly encountered reptiles on my visits to the Mojave Desert, but it can often be just a blur as it races across the desert floor.

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It is in the family of lizards Teiidae, which also includes Tegus and Racerunners. Western Whiptails have long, slender bodies, with small, grainy scales on their backs and larger rectangular scales on their bellies. They can grow to a foot in total length, but two-thirds of that length is their tail.

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The Western Whiptail actively forages on the ground often near the base of vegetation and hunts a wide variety of ground-dwelling invertebrates, including grasshoppers, beetles, ants, termites, insect larvae and spiders. They flick out their tongues and often probe cracks and crevices and dig in loose soil as they search for food.

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This lizard occurs in a variety of habitats including valley foothills, chaparral, desert riparian areas, desert scrub, desert washes and grasslands. I usually see then in flat, open areas and in some instances they make their home in areas cleared by man.

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These reptiles are capable of running very fast and when pursued, escape into their underground burrows. They have the ability of autotomizing (dropping) their tails as a method of evading of predation attempts.

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Western Whiptails are fun lizards to experience in the wild. If you stay a few yards away from them, they will go about their lives, moving almost constantly, while searching for food.

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Brown Anole

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While visiting Disney Parks in Orlando, I’d occasionally notice these small reptiles, usually hanging out near vegetation. These lizards feed on small arthropods such as crickets, moths, ants, grasshoppers, cockroaches, beetles, flies, butterflies and spiders.

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This species was introduced in southern Florida from the Caribbean decades ago. Since then, it has been slowly expanding northward and is now firmly established not only in Florida, but also in some areas of coastal and southern Georgia.

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The Brown Anole is normally a light brown color with darker brown to black markings on its back, and several tan colored lines on its sides. Like other anoles, it can change color – usually to another shade of brown or black.

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Its coloration allows it to easily blend in with its surroundings, making it difficult for predators to spot. The Brown Anole has a detachable tail, so if grabbed by a predator, the broken tail can allow the lizard to escape. The tail grows back afterwards, albeit smaller and duller in color.

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The Brown Anole tends to live on the ground, avoiding trees and preferring to live in smaller plants and shrubs. It is found in both urban and suburban areas. When the weather is warm, it can be found basking. When it is cold, it prefers sheltered areas, like under rocks or under the bark of trees.

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At an adult size of only 5 to 9 inches in total length, it has a wide range of mammal, bird and reptile predators. Despite the extensive list of creatures that want to eat it, this lizard’s alertness and speed make it very difficult to capture.

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Six-lined Racerunner

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While visiting this sandy habitat in Missouri, I came across several of these quick little reptiles. Their ground-dwelling habits and impressive speed are often sufficient to identify them from a distance.

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Growing 6 to 9-1/2 inches, the Six-lined Racerunner is the only lizard in the southeastern United States with six light yellow or white stripes down its back.

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This species is most common in hot, open areas such as fields, woodland edges and sand dunes; it is almost always found on the ground. It is fond of heat and is active even on the hottest of Summer days.

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Six-lined Racerunners rely on sight to hunt small insects, arachnids, other reptiles, and occasionally, even mammals. They are voracious predators that hunt during daylight hours.

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It was fun to observe these fast-moving and agile escape artists that can quickly disappear into thick cover or small burrows when they perceive danger.

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Southern Alligator Lizard

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This is a relatively common lizard native to the Pacific Coast of North America. I enjoy seeing it when I visit California.

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Their backs are brown with black spots that form numerous bands across the body’s width. They sometimes feature orange, yellow and white markings.

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These reptiles live in a variety of habitats. I tend to find them in grassy, brushy, or rocky openings within forested areas. I often find them hidden underneath logs.

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The common name “alligator lizard” is a reference to the fact that the back and belly scales of these lizards are reinforced by bone, as they are in alligators.

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This creature has small legs and a long, somewhat prehensile tail that can be twice as long as its body. Like many lizards, they can detach their tail deliberately as a defensive tactic; the tail will grow back, although generally not as long as the original.

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One interesting characteristic this lizard has is a fold along each of its sides. The folds allows its body to expand to hold food or eggs.

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These lizards are thought to be more closely related to snakes than most other species of lizards. Like snakes, they shed their skin in a single intact piece by turning it inside out as they crawl out of it.

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The Southern Alligator Lizard eats small arthropods, slugs, lizards, small mammals, and occasionally young birds and eggs.

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This a a neat “classic” American reptile that is fun to come across while out herping.

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Sierra Fence Lizard

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While visiting Yosemite National Park I had my first-ever encounter with this subspecies of Fence Lizard. The habitat of this creature is covered with snow for much of the year.

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Though the weather was cool and there was still patches of snow on the ground, these reptiles were out catching the sun’s rays. Sierra Fence Lizards prefer open sunny areas and are often seen basking in the sun on rocks, fallen logs, trees, fences and walls.

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These medium-sized lizards are usually about six inches in total length and are covered in spiny gray, tan, or brown scales with a pattern of darker waves or blotches.

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Their favored habitats include grassland, sagebrush, broken chaparral, woodland, coniferous forest, farmland and even some urban areas. Here they bask, defend their territories, and feed on beetles, ants, flies, caterpillars and spiders.

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A protein in the Sierra Fence Lizard’s blood can kill the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, the most common tick-carried disease in the northern hemisphere. When disease-carrying ticks feed on the lizard’s blood, the disease-causing bacteria are killed and the ticks no longer carry the disease.

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It was neat to encounter yet another subspecies of this widespread and adaptable reptile while on my visit to California.

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Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

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This is a super cool reptile that I’ve occasionally seen on my visits to Nevada. It inhabits arid and semiarid areas with vegetation such as like bunch grass, sagebrush, creosote bush and other scattered low plants.

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The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard prefers flat areas with open space for running and avoids densely vegetated habitats. Most of the times when I’ve encountered them, they were on dirt or gravel roads basking in the sunshine. They allowed me to take photos of them if I stayed in the car, but as soon as I got out, they ran for cover.

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Like its namesake, it is characterized by dark spots. A color-changing reptile, the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has a light coloration in which the spots are very visible, and a dark coloration in which the spots blend in. In addition, during breeding season, females develop orange spots.

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This reptile is a fierce hunter that preys on mainly on smaller lizards, though it will also consume insects, rodents and snakes. This lizard supplements its diet with berries, small leaves and flowers. As an ambush predator, it waits in the shadows underneath a bush or small tree, where its spotted pattern blends in with its surroundings.

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When a food item comes sufficiently close, it uses a rapid pouncing movement to capture the prey in its strong jaws.The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard has been documented to jump up to two feet in any direction, including into the air, in order to catch its food.

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This reptile can reach more than 15 inches in total length and has the ability to stand up and run on its hind legs when being pursued by predators, such as kit foxes, badgers and birds.

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Sagebrush Lizard

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I found my first examples of this fine reptile while visiting Zion National Park in Utah, but have also gone on to find them in Nevada as well. This reptile tends to be found at mid to high altitudes in the western United States.

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True to its name, the Sagebrush Lizard is commonly observed in shrublands; it can be encountered on open, flat, grassy plains and plateaus, wooded foothills, rocky canyons and on steep forested slopes. Though they will bask on logs and rocky outcrops, I’ve seen a fair number of them on the ground.

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It usually has a total length of about 6 inches and is gray-brown to orange-brown with pointed, keeled scales and four rows of dark, irregular shaped blotches. A broad, gray mid-dorsal stripe extends from the neck onto the base of the tail.

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This sometimes colorful creature feeds on a variety of insects including ants, beetles, termites, flies, caterpillars, true bugs and grasshoppers. It also eats a variety of spiders and scorpions.

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Adult males have blue patches on each side of the belly and their throat is mottled or streaked with blue. Adult females have only a pale blue coloration on their bellies, but may develop red or orange colors when gravid (carrying eggs).

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During the breeding season males do “push-ups” on elevated perches to display their bright blue side patches to warn off other males.

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This is a fun reptile to see while hiking. It’s many different “looks” in addition to its interesting behaviors that make for enjoyable encounters.

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Six-lined Racerunner

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What’s the fastest lizard in the land? Some would say that it’s this one, which has been clocked at sprinting 18 miles per hour. Six-lined Racerunners are wary, energetic and fast moving.

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It gets the first part of its common name from its yellow stripes. As I hiked through a Pine Barrens habitat in coastal Maryland, these reptiles could be seen darting across the path on front of me.

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I’ve encountered Six-lined Racerunners in the southeastern states and they seem to have a preference for sandy areas. They are fond of heat and out and about on the hottest of Summer days, catching insects, spiders and other invertebrates.

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It was cool to see this reptilian speedster on my forays into the wilds of The Old Line State.

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Eastern Fence Lizard

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This very cool reptile is the only non-skink native to my home state of Ohio. Although I have encountered them in the Buckeye State, they are much easier to find further south. I saw a few on my recent trip to Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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The Eastern Fence Lizard often uses trees as a way to evade capture and like a squirrel, staying on the opposite side of the tree that its pursuer is on.

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It found in much of the eastern United States and is somewhat general in its habitat, being found along forest edges (especially on hiking trails or where a field meets woodlands), rock piles, logs, grasslands, stumps and of course wooden fences.

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Eastern Fence Lizards belong to a family known as Spiny Lizards and have rough, pointed scales on their backs. Though they are generally earthtone in color, females have patterns of black bands on their backs, while males have patches of blue on their bellies and throats.

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Males ward off other males from their territories with displays of head-bobbing and push-ups; they will also flash the blue scales on their underbellies.

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Their main food is insects and other invertebrates. Within the past 70 years, Eastern Fence Lizards have evolved in parts of their range to have longer legs and new behaviors to escape non-native Fire Ants, which are capable of killing and eating reptiles.

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