If you’re a lizard lover, you’ve arrived at the perfect place. Today, we will discuss the 7 types of lizards you can encounter in Washington that you may not be aware of.
So, allow me to expand your horizons.
Northern Alligator Lizard
This lizard’s name sounds more ominous than it should, given that we’re talking about a 4-inch-long reptile. Alligator lizards are tiny and generally brown, with agile bodies and very long prehensile tails.
The lizard has small legs but long fingers, which is indicative of its climbing abilities. Don’t be fooled by its short limbs, though, because this reptile is capable of lightning-fast speeds whenever threatened or scared.
Northern alligator lizards are more common in the western part of North America, where it dwells in forests, woodlands, and anywhere else they can find thick vegetation, trees, and bushes.
These fast reptiles are good climbers and can navigate their ecosystem with incredible ease in search of food or when evading predators. The lizard’s bland brown/grey coloring is also great for camouflaging purposes.
Like any other member of the lizard family, this one can also drop its long tail when threatened or held by force.
The automatic nerves in the tail will keep the muscles busy, causing the severed appendix to wriggle for several minutes, distracting the potential predator and allowing the lizard to escape. The lost limb will regenerate, but never to its full form or function.
Interesting fact: These lizards got their name from their flat back with visible side margins and visible head armor that make the animal resemble a miniature alligator. Unfortunately, this isn’t meant to scare anyone because a 4-inch alligator would, at most, be cute and cuddly.
Northern Sagebrush Lizard
The Northern sagebrush lizard shares the exact same ecosystem and geographical distribution as the alligator lizard.
This one dwells in forests and grasslands but also prefers semi-arid rocky outcroppings for the multitude of hiding spots available. This is where the similarities stop because the sagebrush lizard is quite different otherwise.
The lizard comes with a stocky and thick body and a similar-looking head with no neck. The neck is still there, but it’s extremely short and bulky, which contrasts with the long and slim limbs.
The lizard’s body recommends the reptile as an agile rock climber, capable of evading predators with ease.
The lizard’s main diet is insectivorous, as it prefers insects, spiders, and many other invertebrates. It also can’t eat much else due to its small size (only up to 2.5 inches).
Interesting fact: Sagebrush males often possess colored necks that they use to attract mates and intimidate other males. The color varies between the different individuals, with blue, red, and orange being the most prevalent options.
The same color is often visible on the lizard’s sides, between the front and hind legs.
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard
This is another very small and, this time, very peculiar lizard that’s worth discussing. To start things off in full force, the short-horned lizard barely qualifies as a lizard to begin with. From a taxonomic standpoint, you’re clearly looking at a lizard.
Appearance-wise, it’s equally as clear you have a frog on your hands. This lizard has no visible traits that you would expect from a lizard. The body is very short, round, and stocky, with wide-apart limbs and long hind legs.
The head is also very wide and frog-like, and the tail is extremely short. The lizard is typically brown and has its skin covered by small spikes that play a defensive role.
This species is widespread throughout Western North America and prefers rocky outcroppings and arid regions, usually with little vegetation visible.
Because of their arid native ecosystem, short-horned lizards have developed a specialized diet that relies most on ants. Almost 70% of the lizard’s diet consists of ants and termites, but spiders, sowbugs, beetles, and caterpillars are also on the menu.
Interesting fact: Pygmy short-horned lizards have several defensive mechanisms, the most impressive one being their ability to puff their bodies and shoot blood through their eyes.
The latter is possible thanks to the lizard’s ability to inflate its eyes to the point where it pops the sensitive blood vessels in the region. This allows the animal to spray its blood to considerable distances, usually aiming for the invader’s eyes.
We’re sticking to the Western side of North America for the next tiny crawler, the side-blotched lizard. This species only gets to 2 inches in most cases, with some even getting to 2.5 inches.
This species comes with agile and slim bodies and long tails and legs, allowing for impressive short-distance speeds. The reptile uses its agility and precision of movement to hunt insects and various arthropods and evade predators.
Most individuals are brown or dark grey, which is fitting for blending in their rocky ecosystem, with yellow spots covering the entire dorsal area. Some specimens also have turquoise tails, although this is rather rare.
The side-blotched lizard is currently protected due to the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat. Fortunately, side-blotched lizards are quite adaptable and are unlikely to face extinction anytime soon.
Interesting fact: Side-blotched lizards rely on a unique mating system based on a hierarchical ladder. Males can occupy one of the 3 available hierarchical positions, which they signal via their body coloring.
Orange morphs are the alphas, which exhibit increased aggression and mate with most of the females, while blue morphs are less aggressive and only get to mate with some females. Then you have the yellow morphs, which exhibit almost no aggression and mate with almost no one.
However, yellow morphs often mimic the behavior of females so they can pass as one. This allows them to come close and mate with the actual females while the alphas are busy being alphas.
Southern Alligator Lizard
While Northern and Southern alligator lizards are fairly similar in many aspects, they are different morphs with different characteristics.
Southern alligator lizards can reach 6 inches in some cases, although many of them remain around 4-5 inches max. The lizard exhibits the same stocky and thick body with wide-apart legs and very long and thick tails.
The same alligator look is present here as well, but the reptile exhibits a multitude of colors and morphs. Most specimens are brown, while others are grey, silvery, orange, or even black, with various dorsal markings.
Southern alligator lizards are strictly carnivorous and consume insects like beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, snails, and even smaller lizards and mammals.
Since they are great climbers, they can also hunt and consume reptile and bird eggs, which they can detect with their powerful olfactory abilities.
Interesting fact: Southern alligator lizards resort to parthenogenesis to reproduce in extreme cases where males are not present. Parthenogenesis refers to the female’s ability to produce viable offspring without the help of a male.
In essence, any unfertile egg will eventually develop an embryo with no semen involved. This may sound like a superpower until you realize there are some limitations and downsides worth mentioning.
The most important one is that the offspring show no genetic diversity, so they’re basically their mother’s clones. This renders them less able to adapt to their environment while also being more susceptible to diseases.
Western Fence Lizard
The Western fence lizard is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful species on today’s list. This reptile is quite widespread throughout North America, where it prefers to dwell in grasslands, woodlands, and rocky ecosystems.
The lizard has several distinct physical characteristics, including the rough body scales, the blue belly coloring (males especially), and the eyebrow crests that imbue the small lizard with style and personality.
These reptiles can grow up to 8.5 inches, so they’re not quite tiny. They also possess thick bodies with short legs but very long toes. Fence lizards are native insect lovers, but they can also eat larger prey due to them being larger as well.
Spiders, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and a variety of worms are always great on the menu.
Interesting fact: Western fence lizards qualify as natural deterrents of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is generally transmitted via tick bites, and this is where the lizard comes in.
The lizard’s blood contains a unique protein called OspA, which neutralizes the bacterium responsible for producing Lyme disease. Ticks that feed on the lizard’s blood will also ingest this protein, which kills off the Lyme disease pathogens present in their guts.
As a result, the ticks can no longer infect humans or other animals.
If you’re after one of the most astounding lizards you can get, look no further than the Western skink. This reptile can reach 8 inches in the wild and comes with a unique and exotic look that’s bound to win you over.
The lizard has a slim, snake-like body, usually brown with 4 longitudinal sidelines (2 on each side.) The tail is extremely long, sometimes longer than the entire body, and it’s a vibrant blue, looking like it’s been doused in blue paint.
Western skinks are native to North America, where they inhabit a multitude of ecosystems, primarily rocky habitats, and grasslands. The reptile prefers areas with little vegetation, so it won’t impede its ability to move fast in case it needs to evade predators.
The main diet is insectivorous and includes a multitude of insects like sowbugs, spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles, to name a few.
This reptile prefers to flee when threatened, but it doesn’t shy away from biting if held by force or is in fear for its life.
Interesting fact: The blue tail is a male-specific characteristic that is thought to serve as a communication tool. Males use it to intimidate their opponents and inform females of their intention to mate.
I hope today’s article has proven that you don’t need to travel to exotic regions around the globe to find exhilarating and unique lizard species.
You have plenty of them right here, on the American continent. We’ve only detailed 7 of the most popular and diverse lizards in the North American region, but many others await you throughout the American continent.