Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Side-blotched Lizard

A tour of the old Nike missile sites along the ridgeline east of Harbor Blvd. today produced a male and female side-blotched lizard around the concrete debris at the site. The surrounding vegetation is extensive, open grassland (heavily grazed) with patches of Coast Goldenbush. A recent (2002 USGS reptile study of the Puente-Chino Hills found this lizard only east of Powder Canyon. This is surprising, since I've seen them along the San Gabriel River in Whittier Narrows, along the Arroyo Seco in northwest Pasadena, and at tiny habitat remnants like the Ballona Wetlands dunes in Playa del Rey.

Though they were historically much more common in the L.A. basin, they seem to like sandy soil with barren patches, which is now a scarce commodity. Most of these sites have been developed or have been replaced by different vegetation, and the animals that maintained this habitat (cattle, sheep, jackrabbits) are gone. For example, they were collected at Griffith Park decades ago, but have apparently disappeared from there since, as the vegetation there has matured from low, open buckwheat scrub to high sumac and Ceanothus chaparral.

This lizard is very poorly depicted in illustrations, including the Peterson guide to reptiles and amphibians - I think it's more attractive than our "normal" lizard, the western fence lizard, locally called the "bluebelly" for the blue underparts of the males. Side-blotched lizards are best identified by the gular folds (= loose skin) around the neck, and by the distinctive orange checkerboard pattern on the upperparts. Mature males will show black patches behind the front legs, but on many individuals these are absent or hard to see.

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