3 Types of Alligator Lizards in California

If you’re not accustomed to the notion of alligator lizards, you’re in the right place. The same stands if you know of the Californian alligator lizards but had no idea that there are actually 3 different types worth discussing.

So, let’s discuss them!

1. Southern Alligator Lizard

Southern alligator lizards are more prevalent than you think. The simple fact that you rarely see them in the wild is proof of the lizard’s great camouflage tactics and reclusive lifestyle.


Alligator lizards can reach 5.6-6 inches in length and showcase a long body with an even longer tail.

The lizard appears stocky and compact, with a long and pointy head covered by thick armored scales. The latter feature is what earned the lizard its alligator tag.

Most alligator lizards are brown, olive green, and anything in between, often covered with white or yellow spots, stripes, and other random markings.

They are fairly easy to recognize and distinguish from other lizard species but not that easy to separate from the other 2 on today’s list. We’ll see why shortly.


Southern alligator lizards are quite common in California, as well as other areas like Oregon and Washington.

They prefer cluttered ecosystems with a variety of hiding spots like rotten logs, rocks, and clutches of vegetation. They also prefer to dwell in zones with thick leaf litter for the same purposes.

Because of their hunting tactics and diet, they often expand their territorial sphere to include human settlements in both urban and suburban areas.

Fortunately, these lizards pose no danger to humans, unlike the reverse.


Southern alligator lizards are primarily insectivores, consuming a multitude of different insects like beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, snails, insect eggs and larvae, etc.

However, larger specimens can also hunt other lizards, like western kinks, and even small birds and mammals. They also have a soft spot for eggs, thanks to their nutritional content.


Southern alligator lizards are generally docile and pose no threat to humans. They will rarely bite and only if cornered or held against their will. They don’t have teeth, though, and their bites are mild, given their small size, so they cannot inflict any serious damage.

Requirements in Captivity

The lizard’s requirements in captivity are standard for reptiles in general. You’re looking at temperatures in the mid-to-high 80s for the main dwelling spot and around the mid-90s for the basking area. Nighttime temperatures can go as low as 63-65 F, but not any lower to prevent discomfort.

In terms of humidity, southern alligator lizards are fine with values between 30-50%, depending on the case.

The upper end is more fitting during the shedding process, as lack of adequate humidity can lead to dysecdysis.

The overall habitat should provide the lizard with at least one hiding area, open space for free movement, and several climbing spots, including in the basking zone. Get a flat rock or anything similar that would allow the lizard to bask in peace.

Interesting fact: Southern alligator lizards don’t need much to amputate their tails. Other lizards usually rely on other defensive mechanisms, leaving the tail shedding as a last resort. Southern alligator lizards often use it as a first resort, so you should always handle the reptile with care to prevent that.

2. Northern Alligator Lizard

This species shares the same habitat with the southern variant, which is why so many people confuse the 2. Let’s see what separates them.


Northern alligator lizards are usually smaller, only reaching up to 4 inches. They also possess thick bodies, but they tend to be generally slimmer and more athletic.

They exhibit less color variation, as most specimens showcase various shades of brown and grey. The several markings present within the group include spots, lines, and even rectangle-shaped marks.

The lizard’s tail is very thick at the base and gets extremely thin towards the tip, and often grows longer than the lizard’s entire body. This species’ skin is shiny and slippery, which enhances the scale plates covering the head.

The front and hind feet are just as wide-apart as in the southern variation, which contributes to the alligator-like look.


Northern alligator lizards are widespread throughout the western US and even parts of Canada, despite the colder-than-usual climate.

The typical habitat includes a lot of vegetation and rocks, as well as open areas that the lizard uses for hunting and basking. The Northern alligator lizard is notorious for its proximity to humans, which leads to many residential sightings, including in urban areas.

The lizard doesn’t necessarily fear humans because it relies on its speed and low profile to avoid detection and capture.

This doesn’t mean that the lizard is tame, just that it won’t necessarily leave a given area despite spotting you there. Maintaining its proximity to its prey is more important than anything.


The lizard’s typical diet relies on insects, especially during the reptile’s juvenile phase. However, larger adults are known to prey on lizards and even small mammals like pinkie mice.

Many state that Northern alligator lizards can also hunt snakes, but that’s unlikely due to the lizard’s small size.


Very docile and friendly. Northern alligator lizards are generally easygoing and won’t exhibit aggression toward humans. Even if they do, they’re harmless because they don’t possess venom or teeth powerful enough to inflict serious damage.

They do well in captivity when provided with proper housing conditions and care, so let’s discuss these.

Requirements in Captivity

Northern alligator lizards have pretty much the same requirements as their southern counterparts. Keep environmental temperatures in the mid-80s, humidity up to 50%, and ensure a stable source of UVB lighting.

The basking spot shouldn’t take up more than 30% of the tank’s entire surface area and needs to include a flat surface for proper basking.

You need more than one hiding spot to accommodate the reptile properly because alligator lizards are extremely shy and reclusive.

Having several safe spaces is critical for their peace of mind. In addition, throw in several climbing spots and place a secure lid on top of the tank.

These avid climbers are experts at breaking out of their enclosure when given the opportunity.

Interesting fact: Northern alligator lizards can regrow their teeth up to 5 times during their lifetime, which, coincidentally, is an ability that alligators possess as well.

The difference is that alligators can regrow the same tooth up to 50 times during their lifetime, which makes sense given the type of prey they’re eating.

3. Panamint Alligator Lizard

Panamint Alligator Lizard (Elgaria panamintina) Explored.

Fortunately, Panamint alligator lizards are completely different from the previous 2, at least in terms of appearance.

There are some similarities worth discussing as well, so let’s check them out too!


Panamint lizards can reach 6 inches, which makes them the largest of the 3. It’s the tail that makes the difference, as this lizard’s tail can get almost twice as long as the entire body.

The lizard is very slim and athletic and no longer possesses the bulky composition of its distinct counterparts. This time, the lizard looks more like a snake than an alligator.

The coloring is also unique compared to the others. Most lizards are lighter in color, usually grey, brown, or cappuccino, and they all exhibit vertical bands across the entire body.

The head has an elongated snout with a long and sturdy neck.


This species prefers an almost strictly rocky layout due to its predilection to hide between rocks and crevices. This explains the reptile’s overall agility and slim body composition.

For this reason, Panamint lizards are rarely seen near human settlements unless the said humans live in desertic, rocky, and underdeveloped regions.


Panamint lizards are almost exclusively insectivorous, capable of consuming pretty much any insect. Moths are among their favorites, alongside spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, and numerous other invertebrates.

While they, too, can consume prey live lizards, small mammals, and eggs, they rarely do that.


Despite their overall docile and friendly temperament, Panamint lizards are rarely kept as pets. There are 2 reasons for that: their specific living conditions that should mimic their natural environment and their sensitivity to captivity overall.

These reptiles are more prone to stress than other species, which will reduce their lifespan and overall quality of life.

You can add several hiding spots to mitigate the animal’s stress, but you’re unlikely to make a huge difference. Panamint lizards have not yet been tamed to the degree other lizards have, which disqualifies them as viable pets.

Requirements in Captivity

We include this chapter here as well because, despite its adaptive difficulty and incompatibility with a captive lifestyle, it’s not impossible to keep a Panamint lizard as a pet. The general recommendations are identical to those applying to the other 2 species of alligator lizards.

A basking spot is necessary for proper UVB radiation, along with a stable temperature gradient, access to fresh water, and a natural layout with rocks, tunnels, caves, and crevices. The lizard also requires a varied diet to thrive.

You should only keep a Panamint lizard as a pet if you’re already accustomed to the species and understand its strict requirements.

Plus, keep in mind that Panamint lizards are pretty rare in the wild and may be illegal to keep and grow as pets in some states. Learn about the lizard’s status in the area you live in, just to be sure.

Interesting fact: Panamint alligator lizards can change their coloring depending on environmental conditions. If the temperature is too low, they will get darker in an attempt to attract more light and heat. If temperatures are too high, the lizard’s coloring will lighten up to reflect the heat.


These alligator lizards share plenty of similarities, but they’re essentially different morphs with different characteristics.

Keep in mind that, overall, they don’t qualify as great pets, primarily because of their rather untamed nature.

You and them are better off if you stick to admiring each other at a distance.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...