CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Western Sagebrush Lizard  - Sceloporus graciosus gracilis

Baird and Girard, 1852
Click on a picture for a larger view



Common Sagebrush Lizard California Range Map
Range in California: Orange

Click the map for a guide to the other subspecies



observation link





Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Adult Male, 3,800 ft.Contra Costa County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Gravid adult female in June, 3,800 ft. Contra Costa County Adult, 6,200 ft., Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tulare County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Gravid adult female in June, 6,200 ft.,Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tuolumne County Juvenile, Contra Costa County
Western Sagebrush Lizards Western Sagebrush Lizards Western Sagebrush Lizards Western Sagebrush Lizards
A family group at 7,200 ft. in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tulare County, in late June including two gravid females in breeding color and one male.
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Adult male, 6,400 ft. Sierra Nevada Mountains, Calaveras County Adult, 6,200 ft., Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tuolumne County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Adult female, 6,400 ft. Sierra Nevada Mountains, Calaveras County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Gravid Adult female showing breeding coloration, Del Norte County © Alan Barron Adult, Breckenridge Mountain
Kern County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard
Adult, 1,400 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County © Owen Holt Adult, 1,400 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County © Owen Holt Adult, 1,400 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County © Owen Holt Juvenile, 2,400 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County © Owen Holt
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard  
Adult male, Ventura County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult female, Ventura County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult, 5,500 ft., Siskiyou County  
       
Habitat
Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat
Habitat, forest clearing, 5,500 ft., Siskiyou County Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, 7,200 ft. Tulare County Habitat, 6,800 ft. Breckenridge Mountain, Kern County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat
Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, Ventura County © Patrick Briggs Habitat, 6,400 ft. Calaveras County
Western Sagebrush Lizard Habitat      
Habitat, 8,000 ft. Alpine County      
       
Short Videos
Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard  
This movie starts just after a male Western Sagebrush Lizard ran up the face of a large a rock outcrop and tackled a huge female who is full of eggs and showing her orange breeding color. He continues to harass her and she moves slowly with her body and her tail elevated defensively. Then he settles in on a ledge above her while she rests. (She occasionally leaped after flying insects which landed nearby, but I could not get that on video.) A male Western Sagebrush Lizard in Contra Costa County runs between rocks, stopping to do his push-up display. This is the same male just before he ran up the rock and chased the female in the previous video. I followed a sagebrush lizard around one morning at my campsite with a video camera as it crawled over a large fallen tree, then foraged around eating small insects.  
Western Sagebrush Lizards Western Sagebrush Lizards Western Sagebrush Lizards  
These three short videos show some interactions between a male and two gravid female Western Sagebrush Lizards on an afternoon in late June in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tulare County. In the first video, they are separated but the male jumps down to join a female and the third comes down from her rock, then as their shade disappears, they move into a sunny patch only a few feet away from the camera to bask. The other two videos show lots of push-ups, tail elevating, shuffling around, and even what looks like snuggling.  
 
Description
 
Size
1 7/8 - 3 1/2 inches long from snout to vent (4.7 - 8.9 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A small lizard with small keeled and pointed scales overlapping on the upper surfaces of the body and limbs.
These scales are not as large as they are on other lizards of the genus Sceloporus.
The gular fold is incomplete.
The scales on the back of the thigh are mostly granular, not keeled (as they are on the Western Fence Lizard.)
Color and Pattern
Color is gray or brown with dark blotches or irregular bands on the body and tail.
Stripes on the sides, visible on other subspecies of Sceloporus graciosus, are not distinct, being reduced to rows of blotches or only partly connected blotches.
There is usually a bar of black on the shoulder and rusty coloring on the armpits and sometimes on the sides of the body and the neck.
Unlike the Western Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis, there is normally no yellow coloring on the rear of the limbs.
Male / Female Differences
Males have a patch of blue color on each side of the belly and on the throat.
The blue throat and belly patches are separated by white.
Male postanal scales are enlarged, and the base of the tail is broader than on the female.
The throat is light blue mottled with white spots.
Sometimes the blue patch is reduced or even absent.
Some males may develop bright orange breeding coloring.

Females have little or no blue on the belly.
When breeding, females may develop orange coloring on the sides and neck and yellow underneath.
Young
Young lizards have little or no blue on the belly.
 
Differences Between Subspecies of Sagebrush Lizards in California

Differences Between the Sagebrush Lizard and the Similar Western Fence Lizard in California
 
Life History and Behavior

Activity
Diurnal.
Active spring through fall.
Hibernates during winter.
A good climber and jumper, able to quickly jump from rock to rock.
Lives mostly on the ground near bushes, logs, rocks, or brush piles.
Often observed basking on rocks and logs.
Territoriality
Males defend their territory and try to attract females with a push-up display that exposes the blue throat and ventral colors. Sometimes the tail is also held erect.
Defense
Escapes danger by running into rocks, rodent burrows, or brush or climbs up trees or rock outcrops.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a variety of small invertebrates, including ants, termites, grasshoppers, flies, spiders, and beetles.
Breeding
Females lay 1 or 2 clutches of 2 - 10 eggs from June to August.

Habitat
Lives in sagebrush and other types of shrublands such as manzanita and ceanothus, as well as open pine and Douglas Fir forests, mainly in the mountains (usually at higher elevations than the Western Fence Lizard but they coexist at lower elevations). In coastal redwood forests, lives along river bottoms. Prefers open areas with scattered low bushes and lots of sun.

Geographical Range
This subspecies ranges west of the Great Basin desert in California, south throughout the Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi mountains, the inner Coast Ranges and Diablo Range, and along the north coast and northern mountain ranges, continuing north into southern Oregon. Populations also occur in the Sutter Buttes and in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The species Sceloporus graciosus occurs in California, Eastern oregon, central Washington, southern Idaho parts of Montana and North Dakota, in much of Wyoming, Utah, western Colorado, northwest New Mexico, northern Arizona, and in the Sierra San Pedro Martir of northern Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
The species Sceloporus graciosus is found at elevations of 500 ft. to about 10,500 ft. (150 - 3,200 m) (Stebbins 2003).

Notes on Taxonomy
Three subspecies of Sceloporus graciosus are recognized in California:
Sceloporus
graciosus gracilis -
Western Sagebrush Lizard,
Sceloporus graciosus graciosus - Northern Sagebrush Lizard, and
Sceloporus graciosus vandenburgianus
- Southern Sagebrush Lizard
.
Sceloporus graciosus vandenburgianus
has been described as a unique species, Sceloporus vandenburgianus.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Sceloporus graciosus gracilis - Western Sagebrush Lizard (Stebbins 1985)
Sceloporus graciosus graciosus -
Northern Sagebrush Lizard (Stebbins 1966)
Sceloporus graciosus gracilis
- Northern Mountain Lizard (Smith 1946)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Phrynosomatidae Zebra-tailed, Earless, Fringe-toed, Spiny, Tree, Side-blotched, and Horned Lizards Fitzinger, 1843
Genus Sceloporus Spiny Lizards Wiegmann, 1828
Species graciosus Common Sagebrush Lizard Baird and Girard, 1852
Subspecies

gracilis Western Sagebrush Lizard Baird and Girard, 1852
Original Description
Sceloporus graciosus - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 69
Sceloporus graciosus gracilis - Baird & Girard, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, 1852, p. 175.

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Sceloporus - Greek -skelos leg and porus - pore or opening - refers to the femoral pores on hind legs
graciosus
- Latin - graciosus graceful - "This small and graceful species..."
gracilis - Latin - slender

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Lizards
Sceloporus graciosus graciosus - Northern Sagebrush Lizard
Sceloporus graciosus vandenburgianus - Southern Sagebrush Lizard
Uta stansburiana - Common Side-blotched Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors. Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Lizards, Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, 1946.

Brown et. al. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society,1995.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.

St. John, Alan D. Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

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