CENTRAL OREGON WILDLIFE
LIZARDS & SKINKS
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii)
The Pygmy Short-horned Lizard, also called “horn toad,” ranges throughout much of the open, semi-arid sagebrush-juniper country of the Northwest. But it also occurs in sunny clearings among pine woods. Surprisingly, populations even manage to survive along the Cascade crest, nearly to timberline at about 7,000-feet elevation. They prefer open areas with sandy soils. This lizard burrows into the soil when inactive. They probably spend more time in hibernation each year than out basking in sunshine. Recent studies indicate that when winter arrives, short-horned lizards bury themselves in sand a mere four or five inches deep, freezing solid as an ice-cube for months at a time. Then, when the renewing warmth of spring arrives, they thaw out and become active again, dining on their primary food, ants.
Between July and September, females give live birth to 3 to 15 young.
Its main defense is remaining motionless using its coloring to blend into the soil;
if that does not work, this lizard will run quickly to low bush or into a rodent burrow.
Photo: Walter Siegmund
Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
The Western fence lizard has a blue belly, hence the name “Blue-belly.” The female’s blue belly is not as vibrant as the male’s iridescent aqua-marine coloring. The Western fence lizard occupies a wide range of habitats, from desert canyons and grasslands to coniferous forests. It requires vertical structure in its habitat, such as rock piles or logs. It is absent from dense, humid forests and flat desert valleys. The Western fence lizard eats spiders and insects such as beetles, mosquitoes, and various types of grasshoppers.
For courtship, territory assertion, and other communication they have precise gestural language including pushups, head-bobbing, teeth-baring, throat-puffing, and side-flattening, much of it tailored to display their blue patches.
A protein in the Western fence lizard’s blood can kill the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, when disease-carrying ticks feed on the lizard’s blood, the disease-causing bacteria are killed and the ticks no longer carry the disease!
The blue-belly has the ability to “throw” its tail to get away from an enemy; eventually, the tail will grow back.
Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)
As their common name implies, these lizards are found in sagebrush habitats, but also occur in scrublands, mixed forests, grasslands, and coniferous forests. They require well-illuminated open ground near cover and are primarily ground dwellers. They are active during the day, generally observed during warm, sunny weather perched on rocks or logs. They eat a variety of small invertebrates, including crickets, beetles, and bees. When ground temperature becomes hot, Sagebrush lizards move into low branches of shrubs or under vegetation. They also burrow in soils and will use rodent burrows, shrubs, and logs for cover at night, and on rainy/cool days. They hibernate during winter and come out of hibernation about mid-May and are active through mid-September.
Western Skink (Eumeces skiltonianus)
The Western skink is found in moist places such as under rocks or logs in a variety of habitats from grassland, desert scrub, juniper shrub lands, and coniferous forests. They prefer riparian area. It is a good burrower and sometimes constructs burrows several times its own body length. This reptile is active from dawn to dusk during spring and summer. Adult skinks usually become inactive by early fall while juveniles will remain active for several more weeks. Their diet includes grasshoppers, moths, spiders, and beetles.
When seized by a predator, its tail falls and wriggles violently attracting attention while the lizard attempts an escape. The tail will grow back with time but is often darker in color and misshapen. They will bite if grasped.
Photo: Cammy Purple Fox Farm
Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)
Side-blotched lizards are found in habitats comprising a wide variety of arid and semi-arid situations with scattered bushes and/or scrubby trees; soil may be sandy, gravelly, or rocky. Active during the day, this reptile is usually the first lizard species out in the morning. Side-blotched lizards eat a wide variety of insects and other arthropods. Little time is spent foraging. Due to its small size, this lizard can heat up quickly so they may be active on warm winter days while other lizards are in deep hibernation. This ability to be active in winter helps the lizard restore fat reserves. It is active mostly on the ground, but it is also a good climber. The Side-blotched Lizard is often seen basking on rocks.
These and other lizards do “push-ups” which can signify territorial or mating behavior.
Photo: Jarek Tuszynski
Plateau Striped Whiptail (Cnemidophorus velox)
In Central Oregon, this lizard only lives in Cove Palisades State Park.
They spend much of their active time foraging and moving between the sun and shade. This species forages by rooting through organic matter at the base of bushes and digging along rocks and logs looking for insects and spiders.
Photo: Trevor Persons
Western Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris)
The Western Whiptail is found in eastern Oregon deserts and semi-arid scrublands. It is most common in flat, sandy areas and along dry washes with little vegetation. Their diet includes a variety of insects, spiders, scorpions, and other lizards. During summer’s hottest part of the day, they are inactive spending their time in underground burrows dug by rodents or lizards. In early September, they start hibernation.
When being attacked by a predator, the Western whiptail will drop its tail. The muscles in the tail will continue contracting causing the tail to flop around. This is used to distract the predator from the lizard. However, this is a last ditch effort, as it is very stressful for the lizard and takes a lot of energy to regrow the tail.
Photo: Connor Long