Sagebrush Lizard

Sagebrush Lizard 027

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.

Sagebrush Lizard_4794

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.

Sagebrush Lizard 044

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.

Sagebrush Lizard

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.

Sagebrush Lizard 041

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).

Sagebrush Lizard 049

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

Sagebrush Lizard_4778

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.

Third Eye Herp

Six-lined Racerunner

Six-lined Racerunner_8479

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.

Six-lined Racerunner_8735

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.

Six-lined Racerunner_8738

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.

Six-lined Racerunner_8725

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

Third Eye Herp

Eastern Fence Lizard

Eastern Fence Lizard_6233

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.

Eastern Fence Lizard_6370

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.

Eastern Fence Lizard_6376

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.

Eastern Fence Lizard_6403

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.

Eastern Fence Lizard_6237

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.

Eastern Fence Lizard_8988

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.

Third Eye Herp

Northern Alligator Lizard

Northern Alligator Lizard 20078

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 Lizard 0096

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.

Northern Alligator Lizard_4134

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 Lizard_1734

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.

Northern Alligator Lizard_9372

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.

Northern Alligator Lizard_0811

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.

Northern Alligator Lizard_9378

Unlike its relative the Southern Alligator Lizard (an egglaying species), this reptile gives birth to live offspring.

Third Eye Herp

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard_2920

Hiking Kelso “Singing” Sand Dunes in California is an odd sensation. It feels like you are walking up an escalator that is going down as the sand shifts under your feet.

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard_2919

The largest dune field in the Mojave Desert also offers a chance of hearing a low, rumbling “song” that can not only be heard, but can also be felt vibrating through the ever shifting ground.

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard_2954

Although the environment at first seemed barren and lifeless, a bit of movement caught my eye. Then it was gone. A little while later I saw a similar movement and this time carefully watched where the creature buried itself.

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard_2946

The Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard is a flat-bodied lizard with smooth, sand-colored skin featuring a pattern of small black spots. Their habitat is restricted to areas containing fine wind-blown sand dunes, the margins of dry lake beds, desert washes, and hillsides. Large, triangular-shaped fringes on their rear toes are used for speed and mobility in the sand.

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard_2955

This reptile feeds on small invertebrates that dwell close to the sand’s surface, such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and scorpions. They also eat seeds, leaves, grasses, and flowers.

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard

This is a speedy, ground-dwelling lizard that runs on its hind limbs when at top speeds. When threatened it often runs a short distance and then wriggles under the sand, chisel-shaped snout first. This was a really neat place to encounter a really neat lizard!

Third Eye Herp


31 chuckwalla 3125

While hiking the Las Vegas Area, it’s easy to give your attention to the lizards scurrying across the desert floor, but by looking up, you may find another intriguing desert dweller quietly perched high in the rocks.

28 chuckwalla_2838

Unlike most other lizards here in the southwest, the Chuckwalla is strictly a rock dweller and is found in rocky outcrops, lava flows, and rocky hillsides of the Great Basin, Mohave and Sonoran deserts.

chuckwalla 2008 310

This is a large, bulky lizard reaching nearly 16 inches long, with folds of loose skin on the sides of its body. Its original species name, obesus, refers to how fat the reptile looks.

29 chuckwalla_2974

Males tend to be slightly larger than females and are often darker in color. Their color varies considerably by region, but generally includes grey, reddish brown and/or yellow. The banded patterns found on juveniles are often retained into adulthood by females.


These day-active lizards emerge in the morning and before seeking food, bask in the sun until reaching an optimum body temperature of 100-105 degrees F. I often see them out and about when it is too hot for other lizards.

chuckwalla 2008 313

The Chuckwalla is primarily a vegetarian and eats fruit, leaves, buds and flowers from a variety of annual as well as perennial plants. It also occasionally supplements its diet with insects. Its favorite foods are yellow flowers and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.


When the Chuckwalla senses danger, it scurries between rocks and lodges itself tightly into a crevice. Then it inflates itself with air until it becomes securely wedged. This makes it nearly impossible to extract from its retreat.

chuckwalla IMG_4729

This is one of the largest lizards native to the United States. It’s a “classic” desert reptile that I always enjoy seeing in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Desert Horned Lizard

Desert Horned Lizard_7861

Perhaps the most bizarre reptile living in the Mojave Desert is the Horned Lizard. We tend to think of lizards here in the United States as sleek and fast-moving, but this creature is an exception.

Desert Horned Lizard_7843

This species has a distinctive flat body with a row of fringed scales down its sides. Although it can run, it’s not particularly speedy.

Desert Horned Lizard

Their coloration varies, but generally blends in with the the surrounding soil; there usually is a beige, tan, or reddish background with contrasting, wavy bands of darker color.

Desert Horned Lizard 358

Horned Lizards are distinctive in appearance by virtue of the pointed, thick, spike-like scales that project from the backs of their heads.

Desert Horned Lizard_7856

When excited, they puff themselves up with air to make them look larger. Their large, flat body surface also works well as a solar collecting panel to maximize their amount of exposure to the sun. They even tilt their bodies to catch more rays when thermoregulating.

Desert Horned Lizard 349

Being slower than other desert lizards, in response to a threat a Horned Lizard may play dead, run away, or in some case it may rupture small capillaries around its eyes and squirt a bloody solution at the would-be attacker.

Desert Horned Lizard 363

This lizard is usually encountered in relatively flat, open, areas with sandy or loamy soil and is less frequently encountered on rocky areas and foothills. It is not a lizard that I consistently find on my trips, even if I go back to spots where they were previously found.

Desert Horned Lizard 361

It feeds on ants and a variety of other insects, including beetles and the larvae of moths and butterflies. It also eats a variety of spiders and some plant material. It laps up small invertebrates with its tongue, much like a toad does.

2009-05-27 346

Some species of Horned Lizards produce live offspring, but the Desert Horned Lizard produces one or two clutches of eggs which are laid in Spring and Summer. Their clutch size ranges from 2 to 16 eggs. Although they are reptiles, Horned Lizards are also known as Horny Toads or Horntoads. No matter what you call them, these reptiles are fascinating creatures and a lot of fun to encounter in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Ground Skink


I have found these small, slender lizards with long tails in several southeastern states, but most recently in southern Illinois. They range from golden brown to almost black in color, but are most often a coppery brown with a dark stripe running along each side.

Ground Skink_010

Running and hiding under ground cover is the method Ground Skinks uses to escape from predators. I have detected this lizard most often by hearing it before seeing it, as it runs over dry leaves on the forest floor. It seems to prefer open areas in or adjacent to woods.

Ground Skink_007

Also known as “The Little Brown Skink,” it is one of the smallest reptiles in North America, with a total length of only 3 to 5-1/2 inches. Like most skinks, Ground Skinks have short legs relative to their body length and smooth, shiny scales.

Ground Skink_1691

Most people never notice them as they hunt insects, spiders, worms and other invertebrate prey in leaf litter.

Third Eye Herp

Broadhead Skink

Broadhead Skink_5409

While visiting Virginia this month, I came across a lizard that I have not seen in a few years. The Broadhead Skink can grow to over a foot long and is the northeast’s largest lizard.

Broadhead Skink_08sr 235

This reptile is essentially a woodland inhabitant. It easily climbs trees and can sometimes be observed high in the branches of dead trees.

Broadhead Skink_5489

Though Broadhead Skinks live in trees and prefer open forest habitats, they can also found hunting, mating and nesting on the ground. Here is one that I saw crossing a gravel road in southern Illinois a few years back.

Broadhead Skink_08sr 238

The female and young closely resemble the female and young of the smaller Five-lined Skink. This is an immature specimen which has a bright blue tail. Adult males are a uniform olive-brown, often sporting a considerable amount of red-orange coloration on their enlarged heads.

Broadhead Skink_5491

Their diet is comprised of mostly insects. Broadhead Skinks search for food in trees and on the the ground using visual and scent signals, which are detected by tongue flicking.

Third Eye Herp

Prairie Racerunner

Prairie Racerunner_7410

What’s the fastest lizard in the land? Here in the United States, that distinction would go to racerunners, which have been clocked at 18 miles per hour. While visiting the sandhill prairies of Illinois, I caught a few of the reptile speedsters.

Prairie Racerunner_7414

Related to the whiptail lizards of the western US, these are a day-active species which prefer a habitat of scrubby areas and sandy substrate for burrowing. This liazrd’s close relative, the Six-lined Racerunner, resides in the southeastern United States.

Prairie Racerunner_7428

As its name implies, the racerunner is extremely fast and agile. These lizards are quite striking in appearance. Adult males obtain a vibrant green coloration on their heads and necks. Like its relative to the east, the Six-lined Raxcerunner, this subspecies has six pale blue or yellow horizontal lines that run along the length of its 6-10 inch body.

Prairie Racerunner_7422

This reptile has to be quick to grab dinner as well escape being eaten by predators. Insects and spiders comprise the bulk of the diet, though other prey of suitable size may also be eaten. The Prairie Racerunner is a very active forager. It moves along the ground with quick, jerky movements as it samples smells with its tongue while it looks about.

Prairie Racerunner_7425

It was very cool to come across this midwest speed specialist while visiting the Land of Lincoln.

Third Eye Herp