CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California






Lizard Behavior and Life History - Breeding Season Activities and
Male-Female Interactions

 









observation link

 

Breeding Season Behavior

Spring is is the breeding season for most North American lizards. Males and females of some species develop orange coloring to show their breeding condition. It shows that females are full of eggs.

Some male lizards grab on to the head of a female with their mouth until she is ready to let him mate with her. They can remain attached this way for many hours, almost oblivious to their surroundings. Besides keeping her from running off to mate with another male, this courting behavior probably shows her how strong and suitable a mate he is.

Alligator Lizards - Elgaria
lizards lizards lizards San Diego Alligator Lizards
These mating Sierra Alligator Lizards were spotted on a forest trail in Plumas County in the middle of the afternoon.
© 2005 Todd Accornero
Two mating Shasta Alligator Lizards.
© Kelly Mathson
One March morning, Carola Bundy photographed these two male San Diego Alligator Lizards biting onto the head of a female lizard on her porch in Los Angeles County. By the afternoon, the smaller lizard on the left was gone and the other two had moved to the driveway. A pair of San Diego Alligator Lizards found in an Orange County yard in late March. © Marissa Russell
lizards lizards lizards lizards
A pair of courting San Diego Alligator Lizards. © Joy Lutz-Mizar A pair of courting San Diego Alligator Lizards. © Aaron Fitzsimmons Naomi Schiff © found this pair of California Alligator Lizards rolling down a hill and mating in late May. A pair of mating San Diego Alligator Lizards  © Liz Kubalek
alligator lizard alligator lizard lizards lizards
Two males attempting to court a female San Francisco Alligator Lizard. It's looks like the bottom male is a California Alligator Lizard.  © Emily Nelson

These California Alligator lizards were found in early May in Placer County. The photo on the right was taken the day after the photo on the left. They had been seen together for 2 days, travelling back and forth over a distance of about 30 feet. 
© Rod Anonymous

San Francisco Alligator Lizard San Francisco Alligator Lizard San Francisco Alligator Lizard Mearns' Rock Lizard
San Francisco Alligator Lizard San Francisco Alligator Lizard San Francisco Alligator Lizard
This female California Alligator Lizard was observed sitting on a trail in Santa Clara County. She started slowly moving in a circle lifting her tail and turning her head under her tail in a circle around her eggs. Normally a female would dig a place or find a sheltered place to lay and brood her eggs, so this behavior is hard to understand. Perhaps she was injured and laid the eggs prematurely. There's no way to know for sure but it's doubtful she was able to successfully incubate the eggs out in the open.
© Wim de Groot

As part of their courtship, which I presume precedes their mating, a male Mearns' Rock Lizard bites the tail of a female, then follows her closely, positioning himself on top of her.
© Dan K.
San Diego Alligator Lizards San Diego Alligator Lizards San Diego Alligator Lizards San Diego Alligator Lizards
Two adult male San Diego Alligator Lizards courting the same female on an Orange County sidewalk in mid April. A pair of San Diego Alligator Lizards found inside a dry children's wading pool in a Los Angeles County suburban backyard in mid April.
© Dana Zoulin
San Diego Alligator Lizards San Diego Alligator Lizards San Francisco Alligator Lizard San Francisco Alligator Lizard
Courting male and female San Diego Alligator Lizards in early April,
San Diego County © Dan Boyd
This copulating pair of California Alligator Lizards
was found in Sacramento in mid May.
San Diego Alligator Lizards Granite Spiny Lizards    
A pair of San Diego Alligator Lizards found mating in a garage in San Diego County in early April.
© Jason Rosenberg
Courting male and female San Diego Alligator Lizards in early May.    
       
Side-blotched Lizards - Uta
side-blotched lizards side-blotched lizards Western Side-blotched Lizards side-blothed lizard
Mating adult Western Side-blotched Lizards  © John Sullivan Mating adult Western Side-blotched Lizards © Jeremiah Easter Mating adult Western Side-blotched Lizards, Los Angeles County
© Emily Chebul
In this short video, a female Western Side-blotched Lizard in the San Diego County desert repeatedly goes in and out of a small hole under an exposed root, digging out the sand with her feet and pushing it lower with her body. It's the middle of the May breeding season, so she is probably digging out a place to lay her eggs.
Western Side-blotched Lizards Western Side-blotched Lizards    
Mating adult Western Side-blotched Lizards, San Diego County © Douglas Brown    
       
Skinks - Plestiodon
  Greater Brown Skink Greater Brown Skink  
Greater Brown Skink Greater Brown Skink Greater Brown Skink Greater Brown Skink
These adult Skilton's Skinks (presumably a male and a female) were observed in courting behaviour at the edge of a trail in Santa Clara County. The male chased the female in and out of a crack in some bark, across the trail, and over various branches and logs. © Wim de Groot
lizard Gilbert Skink and Fence Lizard    
This Coronado Skink was found underneath a rock, lying on top of her eggs, in San Diego County.
 © Ryan Sikola
An adult male Northern Brown Skink (left) appears to be courting an adult female Northern Brown Skink (right) in the early May breeding season.
© Rod
   
       
Horned Lizards - Phrynosoma
Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard
Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard
Jay Snow shot this series (left to right, top to bottom) of a mating pair of Desert Horned Lizards one day in late May in Death Valley National Park. © Jay Snow


coast horned lizards coast horned lizards Flat-tail Horned Lizard Coast Horned Lizard
Mating Coast Horned Lizards. © Becky Trask Adult Flat-tailed Horned Lizards breeding. © Michael Robinson This is a short video of a pair of mating Blainville's Horned Lizards. It's interesting that they are belly to belly. With all those horns and spines, it's probably safer that way. © Huck Triggs
 
Other Lizard Families
whiptails
Northern Desert Iguana Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
These mating adult Coastal Whiptails in the Baja California desert were so preoccupied that they allowed me to get close enough to grab them if I'd wanted. But that would have been rude. A mating pair of Desert Iguanas
© Keith Condon
A female Great Basin Fence Lizard lays her eggs in a nest she dug on a San Diego County patio in mid June. © Connie McDowell
Coast Range Fence Lizard Coast Range Fence Lizard Mearns' Rock Lizard  
On a sunny afternoon in May, the adult male Coast Range Fence Lizard on top chased the female on the bottom, keeping on top of her and not letting her get away. Courting adult male and female Mearns' Rock Lizards. © Dan K.  
       
Breeding Colors

In some lizard species, males have brighter colors than females that they show off to drive off rival males and to attract females. These colors often intensify during the breeding season. There are many pictures of colorful male with their additional breeding colors Here  so only a few will be shown here.

Some species of breeding female lizards develop areas of orange color on the body and underside of the tail, but why they do so is not understood. One theory is that the colors serve to warn off males once a female has already mated. Another theory is that the colors attract breeding males. And another is that the colors are based on the female's changing hormones during the breeding season.


Males

uta desert iguana northern brown skink Northern Brown Skink
Adult male Nevada Side-blotched Lizard showing his bright orange breeding coloring. This adult male Northern Desert Iguana, shows orange breeding coloring on his underside. Breeding male Northern Brown Skink.
Skilton's Skink Skilton's Skink Western Side-blotched Lizard yellow-backed spiny lizard
Adult male Skilton's Skink with breeding colors. © Alan Barron

Adult male Western Side-blotched Lizard

Adult male Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard
© Patrick Briggs

Females

yellow-backed spiny lizard Western Sagebrush Lizard lizard lizard
Female Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard
© Steve Bledsoe
Gravid adult female
Western Sagebrush Lizard
Breeding adult female
Texas Greater Earless Lizard
Gravid adult female
Sonoran Earless Lizard
cope's leopard lizard Cope's Leopard Lizard long-nosed leopard lizard great basin collared lizard
Female Cope's Leopard Lizard showing red breeding coloring. Adult female Long-nosed Leopard Lizard showing her red breeding colors.
Breeding colors on an adult female
Great Basin Collared Lizard
   
Male - Female Interactions (not mating or courting)

These are some encounters between males and females that may also be part of courtship rituals. In some of the encounters, the males are chasing the females and shaking their bodies very quickly as if they are trying to persuade the females to mate. In another, a male sagebrush lizard appears to be agressive towards the female, who is full of eggs.

fence lizards desert spiny lizard uta western sagebrush lizard
This is a short video of two Coast Range Fence Lizards during the breeding season. The first lizard, a female, does a territorial push-up display. A male sees her, comes up the side of the rock, and begins to pursue her. She arches her back and hops away, running in a circle to reject his advances. She may have already mated, or maybe he's not her type. He finally stops and does a push-up display. Afterwards, they both ran off.

This video shows some interactions between a male and a female Desert Spiny Lizard on the trunk of a large cottonwood tree. They both do push-up displays, and the female tries to put her head underneath the male a few times. It almost looks like the female is pursuing the male. A male Western Side-blotched Lizard chases a female. She is not interested, and runs away. This movie starts just after a male Western Sagebrush Lizard ran up the face of a large a rock outcrop and tackled a female, who was huge and full of eggs. He continues to harass her and she moves slowly with her body and her tail elevated defensively. She moves away and he sits on a ledge above her.
western sagebrush lizard western sagebrush lizard western sagebrush lizard great basin fence lizards
These three short videos show some interactions between a male and two orange gravid female Western Sagebrush Lizards on an afternoon in late June in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tulare County. In the first video, they are separated but the male jumps down to join a female and the third comes down from her rock, then as their shade disappears, they move into a sunny patch only a few feet away from the camera to bask. The other two videos show lots of push-ups, tail elevating, shuffling around, and even what looks like snuggling. In this short video, a female Great Basin 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.

lizards      
In this short video, an adult male Common Agama, native to Africa and introduced to Florida, does his push-up territorial display and chases a female, who raises up high and lifts her tail to deter him.      
       

Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps


Return to the Top

 © 2000 -