A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Commonly Encountered California Lizards

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Check the following pictures first if you are trying to identify a lizard you have found in California.

Because most of these lizards are often seen around houses and yards, I have received many emails asking me to identify them. For that reason I consider them to be the lizards most commonly encountered in California.

Always keep in mind that any kind of lizard can vary in appearance and can look much different in motion than it does in a still photo. Sunlight and shade can also change the apparent color of a lizard, and lizards will change in color depending on their temperature.

If you do not find your lizard here, try this page: Identifying Lizards Found in California - an Expanded Photo Index

Southern Alligator Lizard

This is the lizard I am most often asked to identify.
It is commonly seen in yards and gardens in southern California
and in rural areas in other parts of the state.

Most of the lizards shown here are slightly coiled, but they often look very long and thin, like a snake, when
stretched out and when moving. Sometines a part of the tail is missing, which an make the lizard look shorter and fatter.

Color can vary from brown to red to grayish. Juveniles do not look like adults - they are very tiny and shiny with a solid coppery color on the back. They are often mistaken for small ground skinks by people who are used to seeing these skinks in the southern and eastern US, but they are a different unrelated species.
lizard lizard lizard
California Alligator Lizard Oregon Alligator Lizard California Alligator Lizard
San Diego Alligator Lizard lizard
California Alligator Lizard San Diego Alligator Lizard San Diego Alligator Lizards
This lizard has a re-grown tail Some lizards have reddish coloring Males and females are sometimes seen paired up like this in April and May
lizard California Alligator Lizard lizard
Juvenile Juvenile Juvenile

Western Fence Lizard

Very common throughout the state. Likely to be found in yards and gardens,
especially in Southern California.

These lizards vary greatly in appearance as you can see in the pictures below. They can look spotted, striped, blotched or solid brown, and they often look very dark before they have warmed up. Chances are good if you see a small lizard sitting on a rock or fence or other object and you are anywhere in California (except the very high mountains or in the deserts) this is the lizard you are looking at. (Some exceptions are the Granite Spiny Lizard and the Side-blotched Lizard in coastal Southern California.)
Northwestern Fence Lizard
Northwestern Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Coast Range Fence Lizard lizard lizard
  Adult males sometimes appear bright blue, especially when they encounter other males during the breeding season. © Kathleen Scavone Sometimes fence lizards are very dark before they have warmed up in the sun, like this one. They can look like they're completely black when viewed from a distance.
© David Rodriguez

Common Side-blotched Lizard

Probably the most abundant and commonly-seen lizard in the deserts.

Also found in other dry areas and in coastal Southern California. These are small lizards that are usually seen sitting on a rock getting some sun. Males have more fine spotting than females, which have larger markings.  They are easily confused with Western Fence Lizards, but this lizard is smaller and does not have the large spiny scales found on a fence lizard.
lizard lizards
lizard lizard lizard
Dark blotch on the side Colorful adult male Females sometimes looks striped

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