A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard - Uma notata

Baird, 1859 “1858”
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Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Range Map
Red: Range in California

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Map with California County Names

observation link

Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
Adult male, Imperial County
Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
  Adult male, Imperial County  
Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
  Adult male, Imperial County  
Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
Adult male, Imperial County Adult male, Imperial County Adult male, Imperial County
© Patrick Briggs
Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Fringe-toed Lizard Tracks
Adult male, San Diego County
© Huck Triggs
When I released the partially-buried lizard shown in this picture, he ran, then dived into the sand to hide, a typical defensive behavior of Fringe-toed lizards. Typically they bury themselves completely in sand, but this one did not because the sand was too shallow. Fringe-toed lizard footprints in the sand, made by the lizard buried in the picture to the left.
Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard
Black blotches on the back merge to form broken lengthwise lines Dark diagonal lines on the throat Underside has permanent orange or pinkish stripes on the sides
Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Great Basin Collared Lizard  
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.
The Fringe-toed Lizards, genus Uma, have soft and smooth skin with granular scales.

Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat
Habitat, Imperial County
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, Imperial County
  Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat  
  Habitat, San Diego County  
Short Videos of Colorado Desert and Mohave Fringe-toed Lizards
A Colorado Desert Fringe-toed lizard runs slowly, then very quickly over the hot sand. A Mojave Fringe-toed lizard biries 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.
A Mojave Fringe-toed llizard runs quickly over the sand to escape. It almost escaped the camera...
2 3/4 to 4 4/5 inches long from snout to vent (7 - 12.2 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, with a contrasting pattern of broken black lengthwise lines and round, eye-like spots.
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, a conspicuous black bar or spot on the sides of the belly, and dark diagonal lines on the throat.
The sides of the belly have a permanent (not just during breeding) orange or pinkish stripe, which intensifies during the breeding season.
Male / Female Differences
Males have two enlarged post-anal scales.

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.
Mating begins in May.
Lays 1 - 5 eggs are laid from May to August.
Multiple clutches are laid in favorable years.
Incubation lasts around 60 days.


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
Found in extreme southeast California in the Colorado Desert from the Salton Sea and Imperial sand hills east to the Colorado River, south to the Colorado River delta and on into extreme northeastern Baja California.
Ranges west as far as the east base of Borrego Mountain.

Fringe-toed Lizards, genus Uma, can be found in Arizona, California, Nevada, and in Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuilla, and Durango, Mexico.

Full Species Range Map
Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
From below sea level to 1,600 ft. (490 m). (Stebbins 2003)

Notes on Taxonomy
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.

In 2020 Uma rufopunctata was shown to represent a hybrid population between Uma notata and Uma cowlesi.
The population in the Mohawk Dunes in Arizona was re-named the Mohawk Dunes Fringe-toed Lizard - Uma thurmanae.

[Derycke, Gottscho, Mulcahy, & De Queiroz "A new cryptic species of fringe-toed lizards from southwestern Arizona with a revised taxonomy of the Uma notata cpecies complex (Squamata: Phrynosomatidae) Zootaxa 4778 (1) 67-100]

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Uma inornata - Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003)
Uma inornata - Colorado Desert Sand Lizard (Stebbins 1955)
Uma inornata - Colorado Uma (Smith 1946)
Uma notata - Ocellated Sand Lizard (Uma inornata; Ocellated Desert Lizard; Red-spotted Desert Lizard; Cope's Desert Lizard; Spotted Yuma Lizard.) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)

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.
Family Phrynosomatidae Zebra-tailed, Earless, Fringe-toed, Spiny, Tree, Side-blotched, and Horned Lizards Fitzinger, 1843
Genus Uma Fringe-toed Lizards Baird, 1859 “1858”

notata Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard Baird, 1859 “1858”
Original Description
Uma notata - Baird, 1858 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 10, p. 253

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 - marked

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. scoparia - Mohave 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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

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.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

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

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the January 2024 State of California Special Animals List and the January 2024 Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California list (unless indicated otherwise below.) Both lists are produced by multiple agencies every year, and sometimes more than once per year, so the conservation status listing information found below might not be from the most recent lists. To make sure you are seeing the most recent listings, go to this California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page where you can search for and download both lists:

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found at the beginning of the two lists. For quick reference, I have included them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either 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 also go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G3


NatureServe State Ranking S2


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 NT Near Threatened


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