A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard - Uma scoparia

Cope, 1894
Click on a picture for a larger view

Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard range map
Range in California: Red

Dot-locality Range Map

observation link

Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard
Adult male, San Bernardino County
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard
  Adult male, San Bernardino County  
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard
Adult male, San Bernardino County Closed eye showing fringed eyelids Adult male, San Bernardino County
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard
Captive adult, Arizona. Adult, San Bernardino County
© Brad Alexander
Adult, San Bernardino County
© Jeremiah Easter
Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard
Black blotches on the back do not merge - there are no broken lengthwise lines Dark lines on the lower throat form crescent-shaped markings Underside has a black mark
on the lower sides
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard tracks
Adult, San Bernardino County
© Zachary Cava
Fringes on toes of rear foot.
These fringes give the lizard genus its common name. They give the toes more surface area to keep them from sinking as the lizard moves over fine wind-blown sand.
Footprints left by the lizard shown above in the top row as it quickly ran away.
  Great Basin Collared Lizard  
  The Fringe-toed Lizards, genus Uma, have soft and smooth skin with granular scales.
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat
Habitat, low, wind-blown sandy wash, San Bernardino County
Habitat, low dunes,
San Bernardino County
Distant view of wind-blown sand dunes habitat, San Bernardino County
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat
Habitat, massive sand dunes,
San Bernardino County
Close-up of part of the dunes shown to the left, San Bernardino County
Habitat, massive sand dunes,
San Bernardino County
Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard sign  
Habitat, San Bernardino County

Sign, San Bernardino County  
Short Videos
Fringe-toed Lizard Fringe-toed Lizard  
Watch a lizard bury itself in the sand to hide. This lizard was captive and sluggish and buries itself slowly and incompletely. In the wild a lizard runs quickly then dissapears in a flash as it dives into the sand.

Watch this llizard run quickly over the sand to escape. It almost escaped the camera...  
2 3/4 to 4 1/5 inches long from snout to vent (7 - 11.4 cm). (Stebbins 2003)
The tail is about the same length as the body.

A medium-sized, flat-bodied, smooth-skinned lizard that inhabits areas of loose sand.
Color and Pattern
Color is white or grayish, with a contrasting pattern of black blotches and eye-like spots.
Black blotches on back do not form broken lengthwise lines, unlike on other species of fringe-toed lizards in California.
The color and pattern create a successful camouflage which allows a lizard to blend into its sandy habitat.
The underside is pale with black bars on the underside of the tail and a black mark on the lower sides.
Dark crescent-shaped lines on the throat differentiate this from otherspecies of fringe-toed lizards in California.
Male / Female Differences
Males have two enlarged postanal scales, distinct femoral pores, a hemipenal bulge at the base of the tail, and a greenish wash on the belly with pink on the sides of the body during the breeding season.
Females have a more pronounced pink coloring on the sides during the breeding season.

Comparison With Similar Species
Comparison of the three species of Fringe-toed Lizards found in California.

Life History and Behavior

Adapted to living in areas with fine windblown sand.
Goes underground in the sand or in a burrow in November, and emerges in February.
Young lizards may go under later and emerge earlier.
Takes cover in the sand to avoid extreme temperatures.
Commonly sleeps in the sand under a bush at night.

A fringe of scales on the sides of the toes help this lizard run quickly over fine sand, preventing them from sinking, similar to the effect of wearing snowshoes.
Scales are granular and very small, which helps a lizard bury itself quickly in fine sand.
A countersunk lower jaw, eyelids that overlap, flaps over the ears, and nostrils and nasal passages which work like valves, all prevent sand from getting into a lizard's orifices and lungs.

The parietal eye, an eye-like structure on top of the head, is thought to help this lizard monitor the amount of solar radiation it receives to help it avoid too much or too little heat.
On waking in the morning, a lizard often basks with just the head above the sand until its body temperature warms sufficiently to allow it to unbury the entire body and continue basking or begin activity.
When scared, this lizard will run very quickly on its hind legs to the opposite side of a bush or a small sand hill, and run into a burrow or dive into the sand. Sometimes they will stop and freeze underneath a bush.
Diet and Feeding
Eats primarily small invertebrates such as ants, beetles, and grasshoppers, along with occasional blossoms, leaves, and seeds. The consumption of plant material may inadvertently occur when a lizard is eating insects.
Adults will also eat lizard hatchlings.
Lays 1 - 5 eggs are from May to July.

Sparsely-vegetated arid areas with fine wind-blown sand, including dunes, flats with sandy hummocks formed around the bases of vegetation, washes, and the banks of rivers. Needs fine, loose sand for burrowing.

Geographical Range
Inhabits areas of fine windblown sand in the Mohave Desert from the southern end of Death Valley south to the Colorado River around Blythe, and into extreme western Arizona.

In 2016 a juvenile fringe-toed lizard was collected at the Amargosa Sand Dunes in Nyte County, Nevada, about 70 miles north of their former northernmost documented locations at the Ibex and Dumont Dunes in California.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
From about 300 ft. to 3,000 ft. (90 - 910 m). (Stebbins 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy

'The spelling of the word "Mojave" or "Mohave" has been a subject of debate. Lowe in the preface to his "Venomous Reptiles of Arizona" (1986) argued for "Mohave" as did Campbell and Lamar (2004, "The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere"). According to linguistics experts on Native American languages, either spelling is correct, but using either the "j" or "h" is based on whether the word is used in a Spanish or English context. Given that this is an English names list, we use the "h" spelling (P. Munro, Linguistics, UCLA, pers. comm.).'

(Taxon Notes to Crotalus scutulatus, SSAR Herpetological Circular no 39, published August 2012, John J. Moriarty, Editor.)

Tre´panier and Murphy (2001) determined that 5 species of Uma inhabit the U.S.:
Uma scoparia,
Uma inornata,
Uma notata,
Uma rufopunctata,
and an unnamed species from the Mohawk Dunes in Arizona.

A 2000 DNA study suggested that U. scoparia may consist of two distinct species. CNAH

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Uma scoparia - Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003)
Uma scoparia - Mojave Sand Lizard (Stebbins 1955)
Uma scoparia - Crescent Uma (Smith 1946)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Highly vulnerable to off-road vehicle activity and the establishment of windbreaks that affect how windblown sand is deposited. (Stebbins 2003)

Protected from take with a sport fishing license in 2013.

Mohave Fringe-toed Lizards at the Ibex Dunes and the Dumont Dunes in extreme northern San Bernardino County in the Amargosa River drainage are a distinct population which is isloated from those to the south. An endangered species petition to protect them from off-road vehicle activity at the dunes was submitted in 2006.
Family Phrynosomatidae Zebra-tailed, Earless, Fringe-toed, Spiny, Tree, Side-blotched, and Horned Lizards Fitzinger, 1843
Genus Uma Fringe-toed Lizards Baird, 1859 “1858”

scoparia Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Cope, 1894
Original Description
Uma scoparia - Cope, 1894 - Amer. Nat., Vol. 28, p. 435

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Uma - Yuma Native American group - possibly referring to its location in AZ
- Latin -twigs and -aria - having

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

Related or Similar California Lizards
U. inornata - Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard
U. notata - Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
C. d. rhodostictus - Western Zebra-tailed 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.

The Coachella Valley Fringe-Toed Lizard (Uma inornata): Genetic Diversity and Phylogenetic Relationships of an Endangered Species Tanya L. Tre´panier and Robert W. Murphy
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution Vol. 18, No. 3, March, pp. 327–334, 2001

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the August 2019 California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) Special Animals List and the CNDDB 2019 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The status listings here might not be the most current. Check the CDFW CNDDB website to see if there are more current lists:

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

There are no significant conservation concerns for this animal in California.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G3G4 Vulnerable - Apparently Secure
NatureServe State Ranking S3S4 Vulnerable - Apparently Secure
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management S Sensitive
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN LC Least Concern


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