CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Great Basin Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis longipes

Baird, 1859 “1858”
Click on a picture for a larger view



Western Fence Lizards California Range MapRange in California: Orange

Click the map for a guide to the other subspecies



observation link





Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male, Inyo County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult, San Diego County Adult male, Inyo County Adult male, Inyo County Adult female, Los Angeles County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
  Adult male, Inyo County  
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male, 5,500 ft., San Diego County Adult female, Inyo County
© John Sullivan
Adult male, San Diego County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult Male, 7,300 ft. Mono County Adult male, Inyo County Young male, Inyo County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard lGreat Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male, Mono County
© Keith Condon
Juvenile, Mono County © Keith Condon Adult male,1600 ft. San Gabriel Mountains foothills,
Los Angeles County © Lori Paul
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male, 9,300 ft. White Mountains, Inyo County Adult female, Orange County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
  Adult male, Inyo County   Young male, San Diego County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard
Adult, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Adult male, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Adult male, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Steve Bledsoe Adult male, Modoc County
Northwestern Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard Coast Range Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Pale adult, Lassen County. © Debbie Frost Adult male, Inyo County Adult female, Inyo County
lizard skin      
Western Fence Lizards have overlapping keeled scales with spines on them over much of their body.      
       
Juveniles
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Juvenile, Los Angeles County

Hatchlings, San Diego County © Shelly Hancock  
Western Side-blotched Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard    
This picture shows the difference in color and pattern between an adult female Side-blotched lizard (above) and juvenile Western Fence Lizards (below) © Mark Miller Hatchling, San Diego County
© Ketarah Shaffer
   
       
Color and Pattern Variations
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Dark-phase adult male, Riverside Co.
© Guntram Deichsel
Dark phase adult,
San Bernardino County
Dark phase adult,
San Bernardino County  © Bo Zaremba
Adult, Riverside County with unusually bright white scales. © Cody Merylees
The two lizards above come from the northern part of Joshua Tree National Park, where the very dark phase seems to be common.    
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Two adults, most likely females, with yellow markings, from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim Striped individual from San Bernardino County © Patrick Briggs Adult from Orange County coast, showing yellow coloring on sides and armpits. © Beverly Gandall
Northwestern Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard    
Occasionally I receive pictures of spiny lizards with this rusty-orange coloration. I have not learned what causes the color, but since it appears to be painted on I suspect it is some kind of paint or chemical that will leave when the lizard sheds its skin. (An alligator was seen in South Carolina with the same color. It was suggested that it might have overwintered in a rusty culvert pipe where the rust gave it the color.) This fence lizard was found in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County.
© Michael DeMarquette.
   
       
Nesting
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard    
A female fence lizard lays her eggs in a nest she dug on a San Diego County patio in mid June. © Connie McDowell    
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
These hatchlings may have hatched from the nest above. They were photographed near the nest site in September.
© Connie McDowell
 
       
Male Displays and Interactions
Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizard
Two males fighting over territory in May in the San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County. The winner claims the rock - far right.
© Mike Dorsey
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male territorial display.
© Jason Rojas
Two adult males fighting in April, San Bernardino County.
© Jason Rojas
Adult male in defensive display during breeding season, Los Angeles County.
© Nao Rains
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Adult Male throat display 6,000 ft. Inyo County  
   
Predation, Parasites, and other Dangers
fence lizard with ticks California Striped Racer eating a male Great Basin Fence lizard California Striped Racer eating a male Great Basin Fence lizard California Striped Racer eating a male Great Basin Fence lizard

Adult male with ticks on the side of his head.

In California, western black-legged ticks (deer ticks) are the primary carriers of Lyme disease. Very tiny nymphal deer ticks are more likely to carry the disease than adults. A protein in the blood of Western Fence Lizards kills the bacterium in these nymphal ticks when they attach themselves to a lizard and ingest the lizard's blood. This could explain why Lyme disease is less common in California than it is in some areas such as the Northeastern states, where it is epidemic.

More Information

Sean Kelly © shot this series of a California Striped Racer eating a male Great Basin Fence lizard in San Diego County.
California Striped Racer Pacific Gopher Snake eating a Western Fence Lizard Pacific Gopher Snake eating a Western Fence Lizard spider eating fence lizard
California Striped Racers eat mosly lizards. This one is swallowing a Western Fence Lizard while holding the front third of its body straight up off the ground. This racer usually hunts with its head in this elevated position. Juvenile Pacific Gopher Snake eating a Western Fence Lizard © Daniel Harris Juvenile fence lizards are preyed upon by many other animals, including the black widow spider. © Rory Doolin
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake California Striped Racer Great Basin Fence Lizard
Sean Kelly found this juvenile Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake eating a Great Basin Fence Lizard behind his garbage can one afternoon in San Diego County.
© Sean Kelly
A California Striped Racer swallows a male Northwestern Fence Lizard in
El Dorado County © Jim Bennett
This adult was rescued from synthetic mesh fencing in which it was trapped in San Diego County. © Mark Miller
     
Habitat
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Inyo County Habitat, coastal San Diego County Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Habitat, Santa Ana Mountains,
Riverside County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Sierra foothills,
Kern County
Habitat,6,200 ft. San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County Habitat, Mohave Desert,
San Bernardino County
Habitat, Laguna Mountains,
San Diego County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, 6,000 ft. Inyo County Habitat, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Steve Bledsoe Habitat, Tehachapi Mountains,
Kern County
Habitat, riparian zone at edge of San Bernardino mountains and Mohave Desert.
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Adult in habitat, Inyo County Habitat, Mohave Desert water tank, Riverside County © Guntram Deichsel
Habitat, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Habitat, Santa Ana Mountains,
Riverside County

You can see more pictures of this lizard from eastern Oregon here.

Short Videos of Great Basin Fence Lizards
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
A female fence lizard runs across a wall in Riverside County and encounters a male who pursues her. She rejects him and he runs to an open spot on top of the wall and does a push-up display. A male fence lizard in Inyo County defensively showing his throat color and doing push-ups. Large, dark phase Great Basin Fence Lizards bask and eat ants off rocks in Inyo County.
 
 
Short Videos of Other Subspecies of Western Fence Lizard
A male Northwestern Fence Lizard defecates off the side of a Butte County fence, wipes himself off, then does a territorial push-up display. I'm not going out of my way trying to film this behavior - I can only take what I get - so here we see another Northwestern Fence Lizard doing his business for the camera. It's like they're trying to tell me something. Two Coast Range Fence Lizards, Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii, are observed during the breeding season in early May in San Benito County. The first lizard, a female, has moved from her perch on a rock to a nearby rock in order to get away from the photographer. She begins a territorial push-up display when a male comes up the side of the rock and begins to pursue her. She arches her back and hops away in order to reject him. She may have already mated and is bearing eggs, or maybe he is not her type. He finally stops and does a push-up display, possibly to continue trying to entice her, or possibly to warn the photographer that this is his territory.

A male Northwestern Fence Lizard fights with a female in Placer County © Rod
Coast Range Fence Lizard Coast Range Fence Lizard Coast Range Fence Lizard San Joaquin Fence Lizard
A few fence lizards in Contra Costa County. A male fence lizard on a tree in Alameda County. Several juvenile fence lizards come out to bask in the sun on a cool and windy morning in early March.

San Joaquin Fence Lizards on trees along a river in early spring.

Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Sierra Fence lizards run around a rocky area in the woods 8,000 ft. high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A Sierra Fence Lizard, or intergrade, runs around rocks in the forest up at 5,600 ft. in Tuolumne County. These two videos show a Placer County Northwestern Fence Lizard appearing to taunt a garter snake (a Mountain Gartersnake is my guess, because it lacks red.) The lizard keeps moving down towards the snake but when the snake moves towards the lizard, apparently trying to catch it for dinner, the lizard runs up the wall away from the snake. © Rod
     
Description
 
Size
Grows up to nearly 4 inches long from snout to vent (10 cm).

Appearance
A fairly small lizard with keeled and pointed dorsal scales of equal size on the back, sides, and belly.
Scales on the backs of the thighs are mostly keeled, and abruptly smaller.
Color and Pattern
Color is brown, gray, or black with narrow irregular crossbars.
Often the color is completely black.
Sometimes light markings on the sides of the backs form stripes or irregular lines, and sometimes dark blotching may form irregular bands.
The belly is gray to black.
Male / Female Differences
Males have blue markings on the sides of the belly edged in black, a single large blue patch on the throat, enlarged postanals, enlarged femoral pores, and a swollen tail base.
Some scales on a male's back become blue or greenish when he is in the light phase.

Females have faint or absent blue markings on the belly, no blue or green color on the upper surfaces, and dark bars or crescents on the back.
Young
Juveniles have little or no blue on the throat and faint blue belly markings or none at all.
 
Differences Between the Western Fence Lizard and the Similar Sagebrush Lizard in California
 
Life History and Behavior

Activity
Diurnal.
Often seen basking in the sun on rocks, downed logs, trees, fences, and walls.
Prefers open sunny areas.
Active when temperatures are warm, becomes inactive during periods of extreme heat or cold, when they shelter in crevices and burrows, or under rocks, boards, tree bark, etc. Probably active all year in warmer parts of its range when temperatures are favorable and there is sun for basking.

Common and easily encountered in the right habitat.
This is probably the species of lizard most often seen in the state due to its abundance in and near populated areas and its conspicuous behavior.
Territoriality
Males establish and defend a territory containing elevated perches where they can observe mates and potential rival males.
Males defend their territory and try to attract females with head-bobbing and a push-up display that exposes the blue throat and ventral colors. Territories are ultimately defended by physical combat with other males.
Defense
The tail detaches easily to distract a potential predator allowing the lizard to escape.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small, mostly terrestrial, invertebrates such as crickets, spiders, ticks, and scorpions, and occasionally eats small lizards including its own species.
Breeding
Mates in early to late spring, depending on the elevation of the location.
Courtship and copulation typically occurs from March to June.
Egg laying occurs 2 - 4 weeks after copulation.
Females dig small pits in loose damp soil where they lay 1 - 3 clutches of 3 - 17 eggs usually from May to July.
Eggs hatch in about 60 days, usually from July to September.

Western Fence Lizards and Lyme Disease
In California, western black-legged ticks (deer ticks) are the primary carriers of Lyme disease. Very tiny nymphal deer ticks are more likely to carry the disease than adults. A protein in the blood of Western Fence Lizards kills the bacterium in these nymphal ticks when they attach themselves to a lizard and ingest the lizard's blood. This could explain why Lyme disease is less common in California than it is in some areas such as the Northeastern states, where it is epidemic.

More Information: (Berkeleyan April 1998)


In an interesting twist, UC Berkeley researchers have found that when fence lizards are removed from an area, the population of Lyme disease-carrying ticks plummets. Up to 90 percent of juvenile Western black-legged ticks, the species that carries the Lyme disease bacteria, feed on Western Fence Lizards. When lizards are no longer available, 95 percent of the ticks fail to find another host to feed on.

More Information: (Berkeley News February 2011)

Habitat
Found in a wide variety of open, sunny habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, scrub, chapparal, forests, along waterways, suburban dwellings, where there are suitable basking and perching sites, including fences, walls, woodpiles, piles of rocks and rocky outcrops, dead and downed trees, wood rat nests, road berms, and open trail edges.

Geographical Range
This subspecies is found in coastal and montane southern California north to Santa Barbara County and east along the mountains into the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierra Nevada region and Great Basin Desert of northeastern California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Idaho. It is not found in the southern California deserts except in isolated groups at higher elevations in the Ord, Providence, and New York mountains, the Mid-hills region, and the Kingston Range. (Stebbins 2003) I have received a report that they also occur in the Granite Mountains.

The species Sceloporus occidentalis ranges from northern Baja California north to Washington and east to Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

The ranges of subspecies shown on the range map above are based mostly on Ryan Calsbeek's distribution map.

Full Species Range Map
An alternate interpretation of the ranges of S. o. longipes and S. o. occidentalis showing S. o. occidentalis present in northeastern California and central Oregon instead of S. o. longipes can be seen here.

Elevational Range
The species Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard, is found at elevations from sea level to around 10,800 ft.
(3,300 m.) (Stebbins, 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy
The taxonomy of Sceloporus occidentalis needs to be studied further. For years six subspecies have been recognized based on geographic variation in morphology, but molecular studies have identified 4 major clades and 11 different genetic groups in California (James Archie, Cal State University Long Beach).

Many authorities have already accepted research that concludes that S. o. becki, the Island Fence Lizard, is a unique species - Sceloporus becki. (Wiens & Reeder, 1997) (Bell, 2001) Others have shown that S. o. taylori should not be classified as a distinct subspecies.

The current taxonomy does not correspond with the ongoing research, so it is certain that in the future the current subspecies and their ranges will be completely revised, probably with several new species described. For this reason some experts no longer recognize any subspecies of S. occidentalis pending further studies. This site follows the SSAR list of 2008 and continues to recognize 6 subspecies.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Commonly called: Bluebelly, Blue-bellied Lizard, Fence Lizard, Swift, Fence Swift

Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard (no subspecies recognized) (Stebbins 2003)
Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus - Great Basin Fence Lizard (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus - Western Fence 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 occidentalis Western Fence Lizard Baird and Girard, 1852
Subspecies


longipes Great Basin Fence Lizard Baird, 1859 “1858”
Original Description
Sceloporus occidentalis - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Prox. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 175
Sceloporus occidentalis longipes - Baird, 1858 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 12, p. 254

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
occidentalis
- Latin - western - refers to its western distribution
longipes - Latin - longi - long and pes - foot

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

Related or Similar Neighboring California Lizards
Western Fence Lizards:
Sceloporus occidentalis becki - Island Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus - San Joaquin Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii - Coast Range Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis - Northwestern Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori - Sierra Fence Lizard

Sagegrush Lizards:
S. graciosus graciosus - Northern Sagebrush Lizard
S. graciosus gracilis - Western Sagebrush Lizard
S. graciosus vandenburgianus - Southern Sagebrush Lizard

Sceloporus orcutti - Granite Spiny Lizard
Sceloporus magister uniformis - Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard
Sceloporus magister transversus - Barred Spiny 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.

Wiens & Reeder (1997 Herpetological Monographs 11: 1-101)

Bell (2001 Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 37(4): 137-142)

S. Morey. Western Fence Lizard Family: Phrynosomatidae R022. California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System California Department of Fish and Game. Originally published in Zeiner, D.C., W.F.Laudenslayer, Jr., K.E. Mayer, and M. White, eds. 1988-1990.
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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