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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California



Granite Night Lizard - Xantusia henshawi

Stejneger, 1893
Click on a picture for a larger view



Granite Night Lizard Range MapRange in California: Red







observation link





Granite Night Lizard
Light phase adult, Imperial County desert
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard
Dark phase adult, Riverside County.
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard
Adult, Riverside County Light-phase adult, photographed while active at night, coastal San Diego County.
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard
Light phase adult, photographed while active at night on the face of a massive boulder, Imperial County. Adult on rock at night, Imperial County Adult, Imperial County
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard
Dark phase adult, 7,500 ft. San Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County, found hiding under a rock during daylight. Dark phase adult, San Diego County
© Bruce Edley
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizards
Adult, San Diego County, (captured and handled under state Scientific Collecting Permit and released at point of capture.) © Adam Clause Adult, San Diego County
© Andy Klotz
Dark and light phase adults,
San Diego County. © Adam G. Clause
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard
Dark phase adult and Juvenile, found hiding together under a loose rock slab
during daylight, near El Cajon, coastal San Diego County.
Adult from near Poway, San Diego County © Douglas Brown Adult from near Poway, San Diego County © Douglas Brown Adult from near Poway, San Diego County © Douglas Brown
Granite Night Lizard Great Basin Collared Lizard    
Adult found at 8,740 ft. elevation
(possibly an elevation record) in Riverside County on a mountain that often gets heavy winter snow
© Robert Black
The Night Lizards, genus Xantusia, have small granular scales on soft skin.
Xantusia henshawi is shown here.

   
       
Feeding
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard    
Night active adult, San Diego County, eating a spider. © Stuart Young    
     
Habitat
Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Riverside County desert Habitat, coastal Riverside County Habitat, San Diego County desert Habitat, 7,500 ft., San Jacinto
Mountains, Riverside Co.
Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat Granite Night Lizard Habitat
Habitat, coastal San Diego County
Habitat, coastal Riverside County Microhabitat, exfoliated granite under huge boulders, San Diego County Habitat, Imperial County
Granite Night Lizard Habitat Mearns' Rock Lizard Habitat    
Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, Imperial County desert    
       
Short Videos
Granite Night Lizard Granite Night Lizard    
Granite Night Lizards running around on huge rocks at night. Watch a short video of this lizard running in bursts of speed in a serpentine motion.
   
       
Description
 
Size
2 - 2.75 inches long from snout to vent (5.1 - 7 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A small lizard with a flattened body, a flattened head covered with large plates, soft skin with fine granular scales, lidless eyes with vertical pupils, a gular fold, a fold of skin low on each side of the body, and a long thin tail, except when it has been detached and has only partially regenerated.
Color and Pattern
Changes from dark phase during the day to light phase at night.
In the light phase, the color is white or yellowish with large dark brown spots on the upper surfaces, and irregular spots and bands on the tail.
In the dark phase, the color is dark brown with a pale white or yellow network on the upper surfaces.
The underside is whitish with minute black speckling, and is made up of large square scales in 14 lengthwise rows.
Male / Female Differences
Males have enlarged femoral pores and a whitish oval patch on the front edge of the line of femoral pores.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Nocturnal. Comes out of its hiding place after dark, but may also be active at dusk and dawn.
Hides in crevices, under rock flakes and slabs, rarely going out except at night when it can be seen crawling on the face of boulders and sometimes on cement structures and buildings.
Most active spring through fall, sometimes active on warm winter days.
May be active in crevices during daylight.
Sometimes seen hunting at night on the outside walls of human structures which are close to boulder outcrops, similar to non-native geckos.
Although this lizard prefers similar habitat to the Leaf-toed Gecko, Phyllodactylus xanti, the ranges of these two species rarely overlap and when it does, they almost never share the same microhabitat.
Defense
Wary and secretive. Capable of running quickly for short distances to escape.
The tail is easily detached and when detached wriggles for several minutes which may distract a predator from the lizard long enough for it to escape.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small invertebrates including spiders, scorpions, beetles, ants, and centipedes, and possibly lizard eggs and a small amount of plant material.
Breeding
Breeds in late spring.
1 - 2 young are born live in the fall.

Habitat
Inhabits rocky canyons and hillsides in the desert and in semiarid regions, and sometimes coastal sage with no large rock outcrops.
Prefers massive boulders and outcrops with exfoliated granite found in the shadier parts of canyons or near water.
Tends to avoid hotter south-facing slopes.
Vegetation includes chaparral, coastal sage scrub, creosote scrub, woodland, and manzanita and coniferous forest at high elevation locations.

Geographical Range
Found from the southern side of San Gorgonio Pass, south along the eastern and western slopes of the Peninsular Range, into northern Baja California as far south as the Canon el Cajon divide in the Sierra San Pedro Martir.
Also occurs west of the San Jacinto mountains in the Lake Perris and Lakeview Mountains area.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Found at elevations of 400 - 8,200 ft. (120 - 2,500 m). (Stebbins 2003 / Jones, Lawrence, Lovich 2009.)
I have also received an unverified report of a lizard seen at 8,500 ft. on Mt. San Jacinto and a verified but unpublished report (as of January 2013) of one found there at 8,740 ft., also, by Robert Black. (Photo shown above.)

Notes on Taxonomy
Called Xantusia henshawi henshawi - Henshaw's Night Lizard, after the discovery of X. h. gracilis.
It was returned to full species status in 2001 when Lovich (2001 Herpetologica 57(4): 470-487) elevated X. gracilis to a full species.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Xantusia henshawi henshawi - Henshaw's Night Lizard (Stebbins 2003)
Xantusia henshawi - Granite Night Lizard (Smith 1946, Stebbins 1966, 1985)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Although common throughout much of its range, this lizard is protected from collection. It needs exfoliated and fissured granite outcrops to survive. It takes thousands of years for this exfoliation and fissuring to occur, so this habitat will not be replaced for many centuries. When flakes and slabs are torn off rock outcrops by someone searching for this lizard or other reptiles, the habitat is irreparably damaged. Such rock destruction is illegal in California: "It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs or other shelters in or under which reptiles may be found." (2007 regulations 5.60.4.)

Reptile hunters are typically blamed for rock habitat destruction, but I have also seen people tearing off huge slabs of granite with a crowbar then carrying the slabs back to their truck to haul them away for a purpose unknown to me. This law needs to be enforced in ways other than just protecting this lizard from unscrupulous reptile collectors or there will be no more habitat and no more lizards.
Taxonomy
Family Xantusiidae Night Lizards Baird, 1858
Genus Xantusia Night Lizards Baird, 1859 “1858”
Species

henshawi Granite Night Lizard Stejneger, 1893
Original Description
Xantusia henshawi - Stejneger, 1893 - Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus., Vol. 16, p. 467

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Xantusia - honors Xantus, John
henshawi
- honors Henshaw, Henry W.

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

Related or Similar California Lizards
X. gracilis - Sandstone Night Lizard
X. vigilis - Yucca Night Lizard
X. sierrae - Sierra Night Lizard
X. r. reticulata - San Clemente Night 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.

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

McPeak, Ron H. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California. Sea Challengers, 2000.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW 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.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.


This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California, however, it is protected from collection in order to preserve its rocky habitat.


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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