Oregon alligator lizard
Photo: Front patio, March 2015
Other Names: Multicarinata means ‘many keeled’ referring to the ridge down the center of the scales
Description: A medium-sized, slender-bodied lizard that occurs on the North American west coast. Adults reach a snout-to-vent length of 2.5-7 inches; weight more than 30 g. They have a distinct skin fold on their sides, separating the keeled scales on the back from the smooth ventral scales. They are brownish in color and often have dark blotches that sometimes blend together into bands. The belly is light gray. The eyes are yellow. Hatchlings are 34 mm in length. Juveniles are marked differently than adults: a broad stripe on the back of tan, reddish, yellow, gray, or beige; side bars may be less distinct.
Reproduction: Mating occurs in Spring, most likely from April to May; normally 5-20 eggs laid between May-July; hatch after 50-55 days, through summer/early fall. About 3 clutches per season, eggs are placed in rock crevices, burrows of rodents. Sexual maturity reached at about 18 months. They live 10-15 years. During the breeding season, a male lizard grabs on to the head of a female with his mouth until she is ready to let him mate with her. They can remain attached this way for many hours, almost oblivious to their surroundings. Besides keeping her from running off to mate with another male, this probably shows her how strong and suitable a mate he is.
Behavior: Can be active with body temperature as low as 52 degrees; can be active in cool temperatures during foggy or cloudy days. Hibernates in winter; duration of inactive period varies with local climate. Active during the day, crepuscular and nocturnal during hot weather. Inactive during cold periods in winter. Alligator lizards are generally secretive, tending to hide in brush or under rocks, although they are often seen foraging out in the open or on roads in the morning and evening. Their first defense is to flee and hide. If caught, a smelly mix of feces and musk, bite, or even ‘release’ its tail – the dropped tail acts as a decoy, distracting the potential predator. As the tail is an important fat reserve, losing the tail is usually a tactic of last resort. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Habitat: Habitat includes open areas in coniferous forest, grassy grown-over areas at margins of woodlands, clearcuts, and areas along streams; along coast this lizard sometimes occurs far from trees or major cover; it is associated with rock outcrops and talus in some areas. Spends time in trees; good swimmer. The only lizard found in the cool coastal forests or northern Oregon. Often found in yards and garages and fairly common in suitable habitat; can be found basking in sunny areas or soaking up heat under warm rocks. May be found in groups but there is little interaction between individuals. Spend the winter hibernating in underground dens.
Range: Occurs along the Pacific Coast and in the Rocky Mountains, from southern British Columbia through Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana south through Oregon to the coastal range and the Sierra Nevada in central California. The elevational range extends from sea level to around 11,000 ft. As the map shows, the different subspecies have quite different ranges, with E.c. principis being the most widely distributed, whereas the E.c. coerulea subspecies occurs only around the San Francisco area.
Food: Eats small invertebrates – tadpoles, termites, beetles, ticks, spiders, millipedes, crickets, mealworms, moths, and snails. Occasionally takes small birds, small baby mice, and other lizards.
Predators: Common garter snake, other snakes, shrikes, red-tailed hawks, house cats.
Of Interest: The primary threat may be outright destruction of habitat. The species tolerates some habitat disturbances such as logging. Introduction of the cinnabar moth for weed (tansy ragweed) control may have adverse effects on northern alligator lizards. The moths are reported to be highly poisonous to the lizards.
- E.c. coerulea,
- E.c. palmeri,
- E.c. principis
- E.c. shastensis
Phylum: Chordata Family: Anguidae Species: E. multicarinata