Scientific name: Elgaria multicarinata. The genus name Elgaria comes from the word “Elgar”, an alternative word for “alligator”. The species name multicarinata is a reference to the many ridges of their scales.
Appearance and size: Southern Alligator Lizards come in colors of grey, brown or tan above, with red blotches on the back. They have many dark bands on their backs, with adjacent white spots. Alligator Lizards have a very long tail up to twice the length of their bodies. The eyes are light yellow. These lizards usually grow up to 6 – 7 inches from snout to vent, and a total of 11 – 12 inches to the tip of the tail. The head of a male is wider than a female’s with a more triangular shape.
Habitat: Found in coniferous forests, oak woodland chaparral, and grassland. They most prefer shelter under rocks, logs, wooden boards, and in tall grass. They are rare in deserts or in mountains above 6,000 feet.
Range: Ranges from southern Washington the state down to Mexico. They are found mostly west of the Cascades and Sierras.
Diet: Eats mostly insects, spiders, snails, and slugs. Large adults have been known to consume small lizards and bird eggs.
Predators: Predators include snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and hawks. The lizard’s tail can be detached as a mechanism to escape, and it is eventually regrown. They may also bite and defecate when handled.
Life cycle: Southern Alligator Lizards have a short mating season, lasting from April to May. The females lay eggs from May to July and they hatch in late summer. The young lizards hatch with their color patterns fully formed. The average lifespan is 10 to 15 years.
Southern Alligator Lizards at Edgewood
- Where at Edgewood am I likely to see or hear Southern Alligator Lizards? These lizards are very secretive and less common than Western Fence Lizards. They tend to hide in brush or under rocks and logs. In the morning and evening they can be spotted in open grass areas or on the sides of trails. They are most frequently heard rustling in the plants next to the trails.
- How do Southern Alligator Lizards lose their tails and when do they grow back? Southern Alligator Lizards can detach or drop their tails to escape from predators if the tail is grabbed. The tail usually regrows in 3-5 weeks. The new tail is never identical to the original, as it is almost always shorter and has a different pattern of tiny scales.
- What times of day and year can I see and hear them? Southern Alligator Lizards are strictly diurnal, but are often out at sunset in hotter weather. The adults are most easily observed in late spring and early summer, while the small juveniles are most common from late July to October. When humans get close, the lizards will quickly run for the nearest shelter, such as in nearby plants or complexes of rocks or sticks. They have a distinctive way of running, using a snake-like wiggling motion. They rarely climb up vertical surfaces.
- What do they do in the cold season? In the winter months, Southern Alligator Lizards enter a period of hibernation. They take shelter under wooden boards or in rock crevices from late November until the mating season starts.
- Where can I learn more?
Family Anguidae on Animal Diversity Web
California Alligator Lizard on California Herps
Alligator Lizard Fact Sheet on San Diego Zoo Global
Information compiled by Matthew James 2014