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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Northern Alligator Lizard

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Desert Horned Lizard

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Broadhead Skink

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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