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Alligator lizards, in the genus Elgaria, include more than 67 species of lizards. There are 10 species of western alligator lizards, those that live in the western part of the United States and Mexico, including the northern alligator lizard, the California alligator lizard and the Shasta alligator lizard. These lizards are a part of the anguid family, which originated 55 million years ago in the northern hemisphere.
Western alligator lizards have snakelike bodies that range from 3.1 inches to 7.25 inches in length. Their tails are up to two times as long as their bodies. They have large heads with slightly forked tongues. Coloring varies by species, but scales are usually brown, gray or slightly red or yellow, with vertical crossbars that are darker. Males are slightly larger and have wider heads than females.
Alligator lizards like to have cover and can be found in human habitat under woodpiles and rocks. In more remote areas, they tend to avoid large open spaces and live in areas with denser, more abundant ground cover.
As carnivores, alligator lizards feed on anything small enough to swallow, including insects, snails, frog tadpoles, spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers and western skinks. They are cannibalistic, feeding on adult and baby lizards of their own species. In addition to hunting live prey, western alligator lizards feed on spider eggs, dead lizards and baby mice.
Western alligator lizards stay active when their body temperature drops as low as 52 degrees Fahrenheit. They move on land with undulations that are snakelike and they swim with a serpentine motion. When threatened, they will show their teeth by opening their mouths and may attack by biting with their strong jaws. They will shed their tails if attacked or captured. While this provides a distraction for predators, it makes the lizard slower and may prevent reproduction for that year.
Reproduction and Life Span
Mating occurs in early spring; females lay approximately five to 20 eggs between May and July. Eggs hatch after 11 weeks. Lizards reach sexual maturity at 18 months. Western alligator lizards have life spans of 10 to 15 years.
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