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Biodiversity Blog

 

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Texas Spiny Lizard

Texas Spiny Lizard Sceloporus olivaceus 31037017 
  
  Photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson from RAF Lakenheath, UK & San Marcos, TX, USA & UK (Creative Commons)

If the Green Anole is the showy lizard presence in a garden, scampering around while flaring its red dewlap, the Texas Spiny Lizard is the opposite, typically shy, and well-camouflaged against the bark of trees where it prefers to stay.

Native to south central United States and northeastern Mexico, the scientific name of this species is Sceloporus olivaceus, and it’s one of 10 spiny lizard species that reside in Texas.

The Texas Spiny Lizards are diurnal, eat mostly insects, and are arboreal, meaning they spend much of their time in trees. They are ectothermic, or “cold-blooded,” meaning they are dependent on outside sources for regulating their temperature. This lizard has spiny dorsal scales and intricate patterns, with colors ranging from grey to tan and brown. Males have two long blue markings on their bellies. The Texas Spiny Lizard is one of the larger members of its genus; adult males can grow to be 11 inches in total length.

The tail comprises much of the total length of lizard. If the lizard is caught by a predator, the end of the tail can easily be broken off, with its reflexive, wiggling motion often distracting the predator from the rest of the lizard! This defense mechanism is called caudal autonomy and is used by many (not all) species of lizards. The Texas Spiny Lizard will grow a new tail to replace the lost portion, but the overall length of the new tail will be shorter than the original.

Breeding season begins in spring and lasts through summer. A female can lay up to four clutches of eggs per season. Each clutch can have up to 20 eggs. When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she will excavate a small area in the ground that has adequate humidity and back up into it. She will lay her eggs here then cover them with soil. The eggs will hatch around 60 days. Upon hatching, the new lizards fend for themselves.

The fact that insects, like crickets and grasshoppers, comprise a large portion of their diet, Texas Spiny Lizard are a welcomed visitor for many gardeners.

Thanks to Dr. Travis Laduc of the Herpetology Collection for his edits.

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