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and Reptiles of California


Sierra Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis taylori

Camp, 1916
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Western Fence Lizards California Range MapRange in California: Purple

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Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult male, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
  Adult, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County  
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult male, Fresno County
© John Sullivan
Adult Male © Patrick Briggs Uderside of adult Male
© Patrick Briggs
Sierra Fence Lizard lizard skin  
Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Western Fence Lizards have overlapping keeled scales with spines on them over much of their body.  
     
Intergrades
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
  Adult Male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County  
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Adult male, 5,600 ft. Tuolumne County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult Male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Adult male, 5,600 ft. Tuolumne County
   
Predation and Parasites
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
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
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
Fence Lizard with ticks
spider eating fence lizard
California Striped Racer

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

Juvenile fence lizards are preyed upon by many other animals, including the black widow spider. © Rory Doolin A California Striped Racer swallows a male Northwestern Fence Lizard in
El Dorado County © Jim Bennett
     
Habitat
Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat  
Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County  
     
Short Videos of Sierra Fence Lizards
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.  
     
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. A male Northwestern Fence Lizard fights with a female in Placer County © Rod
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.
Coast Range Fence Lizard Coast Range Fence Lizard Coast Range 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.
Coast Range Fence Lizards San Joaquin Fence Lizard  
Two Coast Range Fence Lizards 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.

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

 
 
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
2.25 - 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (5.7 - 8.9 cm). (Stebbins 2003)
The largest subspecies of Western Fence Lizard.

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 blotches.
Sometimes light markings on the sides of the backs form stripes or irregular lines, and sometimes dark blotching may form irregular bands.
The rear of the limbs is yellow or orange.
The sides of the belly are blue.
Male / Female Differences
Males usually have a nearly entirely blue belly and 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.
The habitat of the Sierra Fence Lizard is covered with snow much of the year.

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
Courtship and copulation occur in late spring or early summer, after snows melt.
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 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
Open, sunny, rocky areas in high-elevation forests, especially areas with large rock outcrops or rock slides.

Geographical Range
This subspecies is endemic to California. Found in upper elevations (generally above 7,000 ft.) on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Tuolumne River drainage to Sequoia National Park.

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.) (This subspecies is found mostly from 7,000 - 11,000 ft. (1,800 to 3,353 m). (Stebbins 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy
S. o. taylori was removed from the 2012 SSAR list of subspecies of Sceloporus occidentalis with this note:
"Leache et al. (2010, Biol. Jo. Linn. Soc. 100:630-641) presented mtDNA evidence that the previously recognized subspecies S. o. taylori is polyphyletic and represents convergent phenotypic evolution among high elevation populations of S. o. biseriatus." I have left the subspecies on my list waiting on more studies of the species.

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 - S. becki. (Wiens & Reeder, 1997) (Bell, 2001)

If it is determined that more of these genetic groups are significantly unique, S. occidentalis could be split into more species and/or the current arrangement of subspecies could be changed. Some experts no longer recognize any subspecies of S. occidentalis pending further studies. (Stebbins 2003) The February 2001 SSAR Circular No. 29, and 2003 update, on which our California State species lists are based, recognizes six subspecies. I will continue to do the same until the new list is published (some time in late 2007 or early 2008) or until I learn of changes based on accepted published work.


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 taylori - Sierra Fence Lizard (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori - Yosemite 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 taylori Sierra Fence Lizard

Camp, 1916
Original Description
Sceloporus occidentalis - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Prox. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 175
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori - Camp, 1916 - Univ. California Publ. Zool. Vol. 17, p. 65

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
taylori - honors Taylor, Edward H.

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

Related or Similar 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 longipes - Great Basin Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis - Northwestern Fence Lizard

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