I spotted a small lizard on top of a dead tumbleweed apparently basking in the 95 degree heat next to some sand dunes. It turned out to be a long-tailed brush lizard that apparently had taken up residence in the bush since there were no large creosote or other bushes within about 10 meters. The large brush is probably used by the adults and the juveniles have to take what they can get. When I got too close for comfort, the lizard descended down into the tumbleweed for safety.
Adult on a tree, Yuma County, Arizona
The Western Long-tailed Brush Lizard has a mixture of small granular scales and larger weekly-keeled scales on the dorsal surface.
Comparison with Similar Sympatric Species
Ther are two other similar species of lizards that are found in California and share part of the range of the Western Long-tailed Brush Lizard - the Small-scaled Lizard and the Tree Lizard. The long-tailed brush lizard has a longer tail than the other two species, but since the tail is easily lost and re-grown that characteristic is not always reliable.
The three species can be separated best by looking at thewide band of enlarged scales on the middle of the back that is found on each species.
Western Long-tailed Brush Lizard - Urosaurus graciosus
The wide band of enlarged weekly-keeled scales on the back of the Western Long-tailed Brush Lizard is not split in the center by a band of smaller scales.
These enlarged scales are larger than those of the Small Scaled Lizard (Baja California Brush Lizard.)
Tree Lizard - Urosaurus ornatus
This tree lizard appears to be the Colorado River Tree Lizard - U. o. symmetricus, the subspecies found in California. It was found in Barstow, outside of the known range of this subspecies, but the scales on the back show wide scales on the back that are split in the center by a large band of smaller scales that is typical of this subspecies.
The Small-scaled Lizard has a band of slightly-enlarged scales on the middle of the back that are not split in the center by a band of smaller scales.
These enlarged scales are smaller than those of the Western Long-tailed Brush Lizard.
Western Side-blotched Lizard - Uta stansburaiana
The Western Side-blotched Lizard has small scales on the back with no band of enlarged scales in the middle, and typically has a large dark blotch on the sides behind the front legs.
Habitat, sand dunes, Imperial County
Habitat, with Creosote bush,
Habitat, dead Creosote bush,
Habitat next to Colorado River,
Yuma County, Arizona
Habitat, Imperial County
We slowly move up to and into the middle of a Creosote bush to find a Long-tailed Brush Lizard on a branch resting motionless and relying on its camouflage to stay hidden.
A Long-tailed Brush Lizard moves along a branch. It doesn't get more exciting than this.
1 7/8 - 2 3/5 inches long from snout to vent (4.7 - 6.6 cm). (Stebbins 2003)
A small lizard with a very long thin tail, up to twice the length of the body that is stongly associated with shrubs and trees. Scales are small, but there is a wide band of distinctly larger keeled scales down the middle of the back.
A distinct gular fold across the throat.
Color and Pattern
Color is grayish, light brown, or beige with faint dark irregular crossbars on the back.
There may be a light stripe along the side.
Able to quickly change from dark to light phase to match it's habitat.
(I took a dark gray lizard off a gray branch and put it on the light sand where it turned to a sandy color in only a few minutes.)
Male / Female Differences
Males have enlarged postanal scales, and a pale belly with green or bluish patches flecked with white on each side of the belly, and an orange or yellowish patch on the throat.
Females have a pale unmarked belly, and may also have orange or yellow on the throat.
Life History and Behavior
Tolerant of high heat (more so than Urosaurus ornatus).
Active from March through fall.
Often found basking on lower branches in the morning.
Spends the night in burrows under a shrub or in the sand or at the tips of branches.
Occasionally seen foraging on the ground and sometimes seen on roads at night.
Relies on its cryptic coloring to act as camouflage as it lies still on a branch with the body and tail aligned with a branch.
When spotted, it will quickly turn to the other side of a branch to hide from a predator, or run into a root tangle or burrow.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small invertebrates and occasionally some plant material.
Mates in the spring.
1 or 2 clutches of 2 - 10 eggs are laid underground from May to July.
Eggs hatch in about two months, with young appearing from July to September.
Capable of living in hot areas with sparse vegetation.
Found in the desert in areas where there are patches of loose sand and scattered bushes and trees, including creosote, salt bush, cat's claw, smoke tree, and mesquite.
Favors creosote bushes with large exposed roots.
The subspecies U. g. graciosus inhabits much of the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California south into northeastern Baja California Norte and part of Sonora, Mexico, extreme eastern Arizona into extreme southern Nevada and just barely into Utah. Another subspecies, U. g. shannoni - Arizona Long-tailed Brush Lizard, is found in south-west-central Arizona and extreme northwest Sonora, Mexico.
Most field guides show the western limit of the range of U. g. graciosus to be the western edge of the Mojave Desert where the Tehachapi and Transverse mountains meet in the Antelope Valley. The 1998 California Department of Fish and Game range map shows the western range limit to be near Barstow. I have found only one record for the species farther west than the Barstowarea, and that is one mile northwest of Rosamond which is labeled Los Angeles County, but is actually Kern County. Because of this record and a probable U. graciosus I saw pictures of from Palmdale, which is not far south of Rosamond, I have made the western limit of the range in that area.
I have received a report of an extreme outlying record from the Inyo Mountains in Inyo County a few miles southeast of Big Pine that needs to be confirmed.
From below sea level to around 3,500 ft. (1,070 m).
Notes on Taxonomy
Two subspecies of Urosaurus graciosus have been recognized, but the subspecies with more prominent dorsal markings found in south-central Arizona - U. g. shannoni Lowe, 1955 - Arizona Long-tailed Brush Lizard, is no longer recognized by some sources. SSAR Herpetological Circular No. 43, 2017 lists the subspecies but shows this note: "Vitt and Dickson (1988, Cat. Am. Amph. Rept. 448) called into question the diagnostic characters used to separate the subspecies of U. graciosus, implying that there is little evidence for the existence of partially separated lineages."
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.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
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.
Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.