Cochise County Reptiles: The Striped Plateau Lizard


The striped plateau lizard, Sceloporus Virgatus, is one of those rather numerous species that aren’t supposed to live where we do…but they’re very much here.  Not that I noticed them in 2009, our first year in Cochise County on 20 off grid acres a mile north of the Mexican border, but lately?


According to the experts, the striped plateau lizard (in Arizona, at least) is only supposed to exist in the Chiricahua and Peloncillo Mountains, and not below elevations of 4,800 feet at that.  Well, we can see the Chiracahua Mountains from our place, some miles off to the northeast, but we’re definitely not in them…and the elevation here at the Border Fort is no more than 4,350 feet at most.

What I’ve noticed this year is that this particular brand of lizard keeps a pretty low profile.  Every so often, one of them will startle when I go to pick up a gas can from among the half dozen we keep on hand to power the portable generators.  In such cases, the spooked reptile will dash from among the cans to the edge of a piece of OSB strand board on which they rest.  If I go away quickly enough, it may stop there–but if not, it’s zip! and down beneath the board to hide.

I’ve seen them hanging on the side of the steps leading up into our storage trailer, too, but mostly they stay under cover.

The stockpile of strand boards under the front of the semi trailer (which I’ve enclosed with super-tall skirting) is a favorite home.  When  I’m after a piece of wood, it’s always a challenge to make sure one of the lizards doesn’t get crushed accidentally.  They seem to purely love “wooden houses”–that is, a base deck of wood with a roof overhead.  Not that they’re unfamiliar with bare ground, but if they can have a floor, they’re as tickled about it as any American housewife.

For most of the year, I’ve been wanting to do a page on the Sceloporus Virgatus, though the species hadn’t been identifed until about an hour ago when posting one of today’s photo’s on the computer and blowing it up to full screen size made Googling the critter a piece of cake.

Good photos were tough to come by, though.  They’re  kind of camera shy, these little cuties.

Enter the blown-up hot water tank.  It’s a long story.  It would bore you.  Suffice it to say that, early this afternoon, I had to lift up one end of a three foot wide, seven foot long, rectangular steel water tank…and in the process uncovered a striped plateau lizard that had been living beneath the tank.

So, balance the tank upright with a shoulder, get out the camera, and….

Curiously enough, a minor flood of water had inundated the deck when the tank was draining.  This left the little lizard’s tootsie’s and part of its tail under water.

The striped plateau lizard, with its tootsies and part of its tail under water.

For a visual reference to give you some idea of the actual size of this lizard, take a look at the next photo.  The reptile is dead center in the photo, and the piece of board with three nails holding it to the deck is a 1″ x 3″.

The striped plateau lizard is in the center of the photo. The piece of board is a 1″ x 3″.

We’ve been seeing a bit more of this species around the place lately.  That could be because it’s grasshopper season.  Lots of hoppers around at this time of year, and various sources report that while the striped plateau lizard will eat all sorts of insects without hesitation, grasshoppers are at the very top of their preference list.

They’re apparently still hunters, waiting quietly until something edible wanders by and then pouncing, munching, crunching, and swallowing.  Minimal chewing.  That’s a familiar style to us, quite similar to the way our pet leopard gecko, Missy, hunts crickets in her cage–although Missy will do a bit of slow stalking from time to time.

It was surprising how long the little lizard stuck around, posing for the camera, with its cover gone and the sun shining down.

The star of the show posed for quite a while.  More than a minute, anyway.  Then he/she finally spooked (about time!) and scat-scooted off the far side of the wet deck, zipping down to ground level and scooting under the structure…almost.  Forgot to tuck in the tail.

Silly lizard! You forgot to tuck in your tail!

So much for the individual who was living under the solar hot water tank and now resides under the deck.  We’ve also been fortunate to get phots of the one that hangs out over by the gas cans and also the fiberglass-covered steps leading up to the storage trailer doors.  (The cans sit just three feet away from the steps.)

The individual who lives near the gas cans.

I’ve seen this striped plateau lizard more than any other individual on the property.  It’s usually either hanging out near (or among) the gas cans or (when feeling adventurous) somewhere near the storage trailer steps.

Crossing open ground.

For many months, I’d been hoping to get a photo or two of this little guy/gal.  But for the longest time, it just wasn’t happening.  I’d see a flash of movement on my way to pick up a can of gas, but hang around for pictures to be taken?  No way.

Which made the pleasure that much greater when time finally came for this lizard to pose–a week or two before the one on the deck (first photos) popped up.

Nah…let’s turn around, go back the other way.

Wildlife photography here at the Border Fort often seems to be a matter of feast or famine.  Well…mostly feast in the sense that there’s almost always something interesting to photograph at any given time on any given day.  But when it comes to a given species, there will often be a long run of missed opportunities or even a total lack of sightings–and then, all of a sudden one day, the critters seem to be everywhere.

So it was that day with the striped plateau lizards.  Not long after Gas Can Charlie posed for posterity, Laundry Shed Linda stepped up to the plate.

Not that I know which lizard was which gender.  But we humans do better (on average) when we name things.  Helps our feeble brains.

Laundry Shed Linda turned up over by, duh, the laundry shed.  It’s a converted steel storage shed, a separate outbuilding that currently house the washer and dryer.

Laundry Shed Linda, trying to decide if I’m a threat or not.

This little one thought it over for a long time, then decided I must be okay…and moved back to the gravel path where she’d been when I walked up.

Lizard on the rocks.





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