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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Species Spotlight #15: Side-blotched Lizard

I’m not much of a herper. Don’t get me wrong, I think reptiles are pretty awesome; it’s just that I’ve never actively sought them out, nor have I relished the thought of trying to identify some of the more cryptic ones (I mean, am I the only one who finds turtles incredibly difficult?). So here I had this unidentified lizard from our trip to California laying around on my hard-drive with no clue as to its true identity, so I did the only thing a non-herper can do – I asked for help.

Thankfully, in any community of birders, there’s always a bit of overlap in knowledge. Sure I may not be able to identify every lizard I see, but if you ever need to know something about dinosaurs or early bird evolution (not likely), I’m your guy. I asked a bunch of young birders I know to help me identify this lizard, and sure enough someone familiar with southwestern lizards answered my plea. Now, there are a couple things confounding the ID here – first, and perhaps most notably, the lizard has autotomized a good portion of his tail (i.e., he shed it as part of some defensive behavior), and judging by the fact he’s still alive, it worked. But now I can’t get a good read on how long it may have been, or its pattern, so it’s completely useless to me now. Secondly, the lizard’s head seems proportionally large compared to his body, indicating he’s a juvenile. With many animals, including lizards, juveniles have different color patterns than adults, so just going through pictures of southern California lizards on the internet wasn’t going to help me in the slightest.

Talk about blending in to your surroundings!

However, after a bit of discourse and a lot of process of elimination, we got an answer. This little mite-ridden juvenile James and I found atop a cliff near the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument was a Side-blotched Lizard, something fairly common in the San Diego area, but completely foreign to us. The thing had been a complete mystery for over a year, so it felt really good to finally have a one-hundred percent positive, unequivocal, and definitive identification. If only every reptile could be so easy.

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