CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Sierra Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis taylori

Camp, 1916
Click on a picture for a larger view



Western Fence Lizards California Range MapRange in California: Purple

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies

Dot-locality Range Map



observation link



SoCalHerpsCover
Android and iPhone App
Electronic Field Guide to the
Reptiles and Amphibians of
Southern California.
Click for More Information.
Available Now at the
iTunes App Store
 and Google Play




Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County Adult male, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
  Adult, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County  
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult male, Fresno County
© John Sullivan
Adult Male © Patrick Briggs Uderside of adult Male
© Patrick Briggs
  Sierra Fence Lizard  
  Adult female, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County  
     
Intergrades
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
  Adult Male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County  
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Adult male, 5,600 ft. Tuolumne County
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard
Adult Male, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Adult male, 5,600 ft. Tuolumne County
   
Predation and Parasites
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
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
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
Fence Lizard with ticks
spider eating fence lizard
California Striped Racer

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

Juvenile fence lizards are preyed upon by many other animals, including the black widow spider. © Rory Doolin A California Striped Racer swallows a male Northwestern Fence Lizard in
El Dorado County © Jim Bennett
     
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
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
fence lizard fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison fence lizard and sagebrush lizard comparison
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.
A Common Sagebrush Lizard on the left basking next to a Western Fence Lizard on the right.
Sagebrush lizard skin Fence lizard skin  
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
Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Habitat, 8,000 ft., Mariposa County
Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat Sierra Fence Lizard Habitat  
Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, 6,200 ft., Tuolumne County  
     
Short Videos
Sierra Fence Lizard Sierra Fence Lizard  
Sierra Fence lizards run around a rocky area in the woods 8,000 ft. high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A Sierra Fence Lizard, or intergrade, runs around rocks in the forest up at 5,600 ft. in Tuolumne County.  
   
Description
 
Size
2.25 - 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (5.7 - 8.9 cm). (Stebbins 2003)
The largest subspecies of Western Fence Lizard.

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.
Color and Pattern
Color is brown, gray, or black with blotches.
Sometimes light markings on the sides of the backs form stripes or irregular lines, and sometimes dark blotching may form irregular bands.
The rear of the limbs is yellow or orange.
The sides of the belly are blue.
Male / Female Differences
Males usually have a nearly entirely blue belly and throat, enlarged postanals, and a swollen tail base.
Some scales on a male's back become blue or greenish when he 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.
Young
Juveniles have little or no blue on the throat and faint blue belly markings or none at all.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
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.
The habitat of the Sierra Fence Lizard is covered with snow much of the year.

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.
Territoriality
Males establish and defend a territory containing elevated perches where they can observe mates and potential rival males.
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. Territories are ultimately defended by physical combat with other males.
Defense
The tail detaches easily to distract a potential predator allowing the lizard to escape.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small, mostly terrestrial, invertebrates such as crickets, spiders, ticks, and scorpions, and occasionally eats small lizards including its own species.
Breeding
Courtship and copulation occur in late spring or early summer, after snows melt.
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 May to July.
Eggs hatch in about 60 days, usually from July to September.

Geographical Range
This subspecies is endemic to California. Found in upper elevations (generally above 7,000 ft.) on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Tuolumne River drainage to Sequoia National Park.

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.
Elevational Range
From 7,000 - 11,000 ft. (1,800 to 3,353 m). (Stebbins 2003)

Habitat
Open, sunny, rocky areas in high-elevation forests, especially areas with large rock outcrops or rock slides.

Notes on Taxonomy
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 - S. becki. (Wiens & Reeder, 1997) (Bell, 2001)

If it is determined that more of these genetic groups are significantly unique, S. occidentalis could be split into more species and/or the current arrangement of subspecies could be changed. Some experts no longer recognize any subspecies of S. occidentalis pending further studies. (Stebbins 2003) The February 2001 SSAR Circular No. 29, and 2003 update, on which our California State species lists are based, recognizes six subspecies. I will continue to do the same until the new list is published (some time in late 2007 or early 2008) or until I learn of changes based on accepted published work.

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 taylori Sierra Fence Lizard

Camp, 1916
Original Description
Sceloporus occidentalis - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Prox. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 175
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori - Camp, 1916 - Univ. California Publ. Zool. Vol. 17, p. 65

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
taylori - honors Taylor, Edward H.

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
Formerly called the Yosemite Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard (no subspecies recognized)

Related or Similar 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 longipes - Great Basin Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis - Northwestern Fence Lizard

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

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

 

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 -