Up to 8.9 cm (3.5 in) SVL, 23.5 cm (9.25 in) total length. A common, small- to medium-sized lizard with a mottled brown dorsum and blue coloration underneath. The dorsal pigmentation and patterning is variable, but is usually some shade of brown, gray, olive, or nearly black, and with two rows of dark blotches or undulating light and dark bands. As with all spiny lizards, the scales on the back are keeled and pointed, while ventral scales are small and smoother. The belly is usually light in color with two elongated patches of blue on the sides, and the undersides of the limbs are often yellow. Male Coast Range Fence Lizards are frequently darker in color than females and have less distinct dorsal markings, a patch of blue on the hind portion of the throat, blue or green speckling on the back, and enlarged postanal scales. Female Coast Range Fence Lizards are often smaller, lighter in color, more distinctly patterned than males, have little to no blue on the throat, and lack the enlarged postanal scales.
This subspecies is distinguished from other types of Western Fence Lizard by range and appearance. There are intergradation zones in areas where the ranges of the subspecies meet, however, producing individuals which are intermediate in their physical attributes.
- Northwestern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis): north of Coast Range Fence Lizard, usually has two separate patches of blue on the throat.
- San Joaquin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus): east of Coast Range Fence Lizard, tends to have more extensive blue coloration on the chin and throat.
- Great Basin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes): south of the Coast Range Fence Lizard, has very large patches of blue on the throat.
- Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus): smaller scales on the back, no yellow on legs, reddish coloration on the neck and body, and a black shoulder bar.
- Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana): smaller scales on the back, black spot behind the front limb.
Other Common Names
Blue-belly, Swift Lizard
The Coast Range Fence Lizard can be found in many habitats, but tends to avoid valley floors and damp forests. Its preferred environment is lightly wooded slopes with rock outcrops or other prominent features, such as walls, fences, logs, or buildings. It is frequently found on hillsides, canyons, and along streams. It can sometimes be seen climbing shrubs and low trees.
Usually the most abundant lizard in its range, the Coast Range Fence Lizard is easily observable and often encountered perched conspicuously on large surface objects. Males claim territories around these objects and defend them from intruders, including humans, by doing push-ups to better display their blue belly patches. This species can be active throughout the year; while they will brumate during periods of particularly cold or wet weather, they can be found basking on warmer days even in the middle of winter. Although alert and quick-moving, most Coast Range Fence Lizards will allow a close approach by humans, whereby they can be caught with a noose or even by hand. It is relatively easily handled, though larger individuals often attempt to bite their captors and the tail readily detaches if grabbed. Ticks that feed on these lizards are cleared of the bacteria which cause Lyme Disease (due to an as-of-yet unidentified protein in the lizard's blood), and the abundance of fence lizards is thought to be one reason why Lyme Disease is rare in California.
Males court the females in their territory with displays of rapid head-bobbing and push-ups. Mating and egg-laying from April to July, and the eggs hatch about two months later in August and September. The usual clutch size is eight to nine eggs, which are buried in moist soil, and the young measure about 25 mm (1 in) SVL upon hatching.
Coast Range Fence Lizards feed primarily on small invertebrates such as insects, but large individuals may also prey upon small lizards, including their own kind.
Endemic to coastal California. Found from Sonoma County in the north down to Santa Barbara County.
Meaning of Scientific Name
- from the Greek words skelos and porus, meaning "leg" and "pore" respectively, referring to the large pores on the hind legs of this genus
- Latin word for "western"
- in honor of biologist Marie Bocourt
The validity of the various Western Fence Lizard subspecies is currently debated, with some authors recognizing no subspecies and others stating some should be given full species status based on morphological and molecular data.
- Ransom, Jay Ellis. Harper & Row's Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife. Harper & Row's, Publishers, Inc. 1981
- Behler, John L. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1988
- Storm, Robert M. and William P. Leonard. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society 1995
- Nafis, Gary. “Coast Range Fence Lizard”. CaliforniaHerps.com 2010. http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/s.o.bocourtii.html
- McNear, Natalie. Personal observation.
- Kaplan, Melissa. "Lizards Slow Lyme Disease in West". Anapsid.org 2009.http://www.anapsid.org/lyme/sceloporus.html
Sceloporus - Spiny Lizards
Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard
- S. o. bocourtii - Coast Range Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus occidentalis - Western Fence Lizard