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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Great Basin Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis longipes

Baird, 1859 “1858”
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Western Fence Lizards California Range MapRange in California: Orange

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to the other subspecies



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Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult, San Diego County Adult male, Inyo County Adult male, Inyo County Adult female, Los Angeles County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male, 5,500 ft., San Diego County Adult female, Inyo County © John Sullivan Adult male, San Diego County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult Male, 7,300 ft. Mono County Adult male, Inyo County Adult female, Orange County
lGreat Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male,1600 ft. San Gabriel Mountains foothills,
Los Angeles County © Lori Paul
Young male, San Diego County Young male, Inyo County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Adult male, 9,300 ft. White Mountains, Inyo County  
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
  Adult male, Inyo County    
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Adult, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon

Adult male, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Adult male, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Steve Bledsoe  
Predation and Parasites
fence lizard with ticks 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

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

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 spider eating 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 Juvenile fence lizards are preyed upon by many other animals, including the black widow spider. © Rory Doolin
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake California Striped Racer  
Sean Kelly found this juvenile Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake eating a Great Basin Fence Lizard behind his garbage can one afternoon in San Diego County.
© Sean Kelly

A California Striped Racer swallows a male Northwestern Fence Lizard in
El Dorado County © Jim Bennett
 
Juveniles
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Juvenile, Los Angeles County

Hatchlings, San Diego County © Shelly Hancock  
Color and Pattern Variations
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard
Dark-phase adult male, Riverside Co.
© Guntram Deichsel
Dark phase adult,
San Bernardino County
Two adults, most likely females, with yellow markings, from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Striped individual from San Bernardino County © Patrick Briggs Adult from Orange County coast, showing yellow coloring on sides and armpits. © Beverly Gandall

An adult from Riverside County with unusual bright white scales.
© Cody Merylees
 
Male Displays and Interactions
Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizard
Two males fighting over territory in May in the San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County. The winner claims the rock - far right.
© Mike Dorsey
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizards Great Basin Fence Lizard
Adult male territorial display.
© Jason Rojas
Two adult males fighting in April, San Bernardino County.
© Jason Rojas
Adult male in defensive display during breeding season, Los Angeles County.
© Nao Rains
Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard Great Basin Fence Lizard  
Adult Male throat display 6,000 ft. Inyo County

 
Comparisons of Western Fence Lizards with Common Sagebrush Lizards
fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison
Dorsal view - Common Sagebrush Lizard, Sceloporus graciosus, on the left, Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis, on the right. Note the larger dorsal scales on the Fence Lizard.
© Patrick Briggs
Head view - Common Sagebrush Lizard on the left, Western Fence Lizard on the right. © Patrick Briggs Ventral view - Western Fence Lizard on the left, Common Sagebrush Lizard on the right. Note the yellow on the back of the thighs on the Western Fence Lizard.
© Patrick Briggs
A Common Sagebrush Lizard on the left basking next to a Western Fence Lizard on the right.
fence lizard fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison Great Basin Collared Lizard Great Basin Collared Lizard
Underside of adult male Western Fence Lizard showing yellow on the back of the thighs and enlarged femoral pores. Comparison of the rear thighs of a Common Sagebrush Lizard - on top, and a Western Fence Lizard - on the bottom.

Note the granular scales on the Common Sagebrush Lizard and the keeled (and yellow) scales on the Western Fence Lizard.

The Sagebrush lizard has overlapping scales with sharp spines on the back.

The Western Fence Lizard has larger scales with longer spines on the back.
Habitat
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Inyo County Habitat, coastal San Diego County Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Habitat, Santa Ana Mountains,
Riverside County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Sierra foothills,
Kern County
Habitat,6,200 ft. San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County Habitat, Mohave Desert,
San Bernardino County
Habitat, Laguna Mountains,
San Diego County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, 6,000 ft. Inyo County Habitat, Kingston Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Steve Bledsoe Habitat, Tehachapi Mountains,
Kern County
Habitat, riparian zone at edge of San Bernardino mountains and Mohave Desert.
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat  
Adult in habitat, Inyo County Habitat, Mohave Desert water tank, Riverside County © Guntram Deichsel
Habitat, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon  

You can see more pictures of this lizard from eastern Oregon here.

Short Videos
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.
 
Description

Size
Grows up to nearly 4 inches long from snout to vent (10 cm).
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, and the rear of the limbs is yellow or orange. The sides of the belly are blue.

Color is brown, gray, or black with narrow irregular crossbars. Often the color is completely black. Sometimes light markings on the sides of the backs form stripes or irregular lines, and sometimes dark blotching may form irregular bands. The belly is gray to black.

Males have blue markings on the sides of the belly edged in black, a single large blue patch on the throat, enlarged postanals, and a swollen tail base. Some scales on the back become blue or greenish when a lizard 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.

Juveniles have little or no blue on the throat and faint blue belly markings or none at all.
Behavior and Natural History
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. Probably active all year in warmer parts of its range when temperatures are favorable and there is sun for basking.

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.

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.

The tail detaches easily to distract a potential predator allowing the lizard to escape.
Diet
Eats small, mostly terrestrial, invertebrates such as crickets, spiders, ticks, and scorpions, and occasionally eats small lizards including its own species.
Reproduction
Mates in early to late spring, depending on the elevation of the location.

Males establish and defend a territory containing elevated perches where they can observe mates and potential rival males. Territories are defended by posturing and by physical combat with other males.

Courtship and copulation typically occurs from March to June. 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 from May to July. Eggs hatch in about 60 days, usually from July to September.
Range
This subspecies is found in coastal and montane southern California north to Santa Barbara County and east along the mountains into the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierra Nevada region and Great Basin Desert of eastern California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Idaho. It is not found in the southern California deserts except in isolated groups at higher elevations in the Ord, Providence, and New York mountains, the Mid-hills region, and the Kingston Range. (Stebbins 2003) I have received a report that they also occur in the Granite Mountains.

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.
Habitat
Found in a wide variety of open, sunny habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, scrub, chapparal, forests, along waterways, suburban dwellings, where there are suitable basking and perching sites, including fences, walls, woodpiles, piles of rocks and rocky outcrops, dead and downed trees, wood rat nests, road berms, and open trail edges.
Taxonomic Notes
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 - Sceloporus becki. (Wiens & Reeder, 1997) (Bell, 2001)

The current taxonomy does not correspond with the ongoing research, so it is certain that in the future the current subspecies and their ranges will be completely revised, probably with several new species described. For this reason some experts no longer recognize any subspecies of S. occidentalis pending further studies. This site follows the SSAR list of 2008 and continues to recognize 6 subspecies.
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


longipes Great Basin Fence Lizard Baird, 1859 “1858”
Original Description
Sceloporus occidentalis - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Prox. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 175
Sceloporus occidentalis longipes - Baird, 1858 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 12, p. 254

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
longipes - Latin - longi - long and pes - foot

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

Alternate Names
Bluebelly or Blue-bellied Lizard
Fence Lizard
Swift
Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard (no subspecies recognized)

Related or Similar Neighboring 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 occidentalis - Northwestern Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori - Sierra Fence Lizard

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

Sceloporus orcutti - Granite Spiny Lizard
Sceloporus magister uniformis - Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard
Sceloporus magister transversus - Barred Spiny Lizard

More Information and References
Natureserve Explorer

California Dept. of Fish and Game

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
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

 

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