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How to Catch an Alligator Lizard

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Piece of cardboard folded to form an enclosed circle

  • Gloves

  • Aquarium

The alligator lizard is a family of lizards native to the Pacific coast of North America. The southern alligator lizard is most common in southern California, whereas the northern alligator lizard is most common in Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho and British Columbia. These lizards can be identified by their distinctive skin folds, which exaggerate the presence of scales. Combined with an uncommonly thick tail for a lizard and an elongated snout, the scales liken these animals to miniature alligators, hence their name. Handling an alligator lizard is not for the faint of heart as these animals are known to defend themselves against humans when provoked. However, if you are interested in capturing an alligator lizard, there are a few recommended methods.

Scout habitats suitable for alligator lizards. The alligator lizard will usually dwell in grasslands, open forest, woodlands and chaparrals, though this does not mean you won’t find one in your backyard. These animals may wander from their natural habitat in search of food, a water source or sunlight.

Find an alligator lizard by searching under rocks, inside logs and near bushes. Alligator lizards are also attracted to streams, so look near these water sources. Branch into other habitats if you are not having luck finding an alligator lizard in these areas. These lizards have been sighted in almost every environment on the Pacific coast, including in sheds, inside houses, in trees and running along fences.

Approach the alligator lizards slowly. In a first line of defense, the alligator lizard will attempt to flee. Herd the lizard into a corner or somewhere that limits its maneuverability. Trap the lizard by surrounding the lizard with a piece of cardboard. The cardboard should be at least 6 inches in height to prevent the lizard from easily climbing over the cardboard.

Grab the lizard around its abdomen section with a gloved hand. Do not grab the lizard by the tail as it can discard its tail when threatened. Ideally, your fingers should be placed between the front and rear legs of the lizard. If you are handling the lizard without gloves on, grab it directly behind its head to prevent getting bitten.

Relocate the captured alligator lizard to an aquarium. Place the lizard into the aquarium. Observe the lizard and then consider releasing the animal back into the wild. If you are considering keeping the lizard for a pet, consult a local veterinarian or exotic pet shop for testing, medications and care instructions.


  • An alligator lizard will deliver a painful bite if threatened. Treat these animals with care.