Cochise County Reptiles: The Southwestern Fence Lizard (Juvenile)


It was a juvenile, all right. The southwestern fence lizard scooting past me on our Cochise County acreage–specifically, on the patch of ground I was digging up for the purpose of laying a bit of PVC pipe to supply our laundry shed–was no bigger’n a minute.

But man, could that little tyke scoot. The tiny critter was lightning fast, darting from place to place. Fortunately, the youngster wasn’t overly spooked by me personally. In fact, its rambling route eventually took it around me more than away from me, as if it were circling the giant human out of sheer curiosity.

Southwestern fence lizards are fairly common in this part of the country. Of course, lots of lizard species seem to be abundant here. We’ve identified more than two dozen during our four and a half years and this land, writing about more than a dozen as photo opportunities made the effort worthwhile.

If this was truly a juvenile, the head should appear larger in proportion to the body than it does on mature adults. Let’s see….

The head appears larger in proportion to the body on this juvenile southwestern fence lizard than it would on a mature adult.

The head appears larger in proportion to the body on this juvenile southwestern fence lizard than it would on a mature adult.

The literature indicates these lizards are voracious hunters, snarfing down bugs galore. Which makes sense; few if any insects could ever hope to match the miniscule reptile’s blazing speed.

It’s also reported they’ll eat smaller lizards. (This one, no more than three inches in total length, will have to grow a bit to find any smaller lizards, I’m thinking.)

Their name seems fitting though. Every shovel the juvie southwestern fence lizard met, it climbed.

Thought it was a fence post.

Every shovel the juvenile southwestern fence lizard came across, it climbed.  Thought it was a fence post.

Every shovel the juvenile southwestern fence lizard came across, it climbed. Thought it was a fence post.

These particular lizards are really, really good at matching their dorsal colors to their background environments. So good, in fact, that while I could somewhat follow the critter’s movement with the naked eye, I kept losing track of it in the Canon PowerShot’s viewscreen image.

However, the ventral (bottom) of the critter is another matter.

At one point, the lizard came zipping back toward me, and the camera got lucky. Although the sun was still out and the shutter speed had to have been at least 1/200 of a second, the animal’s ferocious forward motion still blurred the image a bit. Which is fine; the blurring gives the view some idea of just how quick this beastie can be.

Beyond that, the camera angle was low enough and the sunlight reflecting enough. The lizard’s creamy underside, with a hint of yellow at the throat, helped produce a remarkable photo.

Luck, not skill. Catching these speedsters in motion definitely requires luck.

Coming more or less at the camera, the creamy yellow underside (ventral) of the southwestern fence lizard is partially exposed.

Coming more or less at the camera, the creamy yellow underside (ventral) of the southwestern fence lizard is partially exposed.

Near the top of the dirt pile produced by my trenching work, the fence lizard once paused to pose in full profile, standing as tall as it could (which, when your legs are maybe an inch long, is not all that tall), surveying the terrain.

Which would seem like a mighty fine idea for a predator no longer than your little finger. It’s not exactly dog eat dog around here, but it surely is predator eat predator. Eat anything that doesn’t eat you and avoid the rest; that’s the motto.

The female of this species will lay an average of ten eggs per season. At a guess, our model for this post was one of those eggs in 2013, hatched not so terribly long ago.

Teen lizard.

Southwestern fence lizard motto:  "Eat anything that doesn't eat you, and look before you leap."

Southwestern fence lizard motto: “Eat anything that doesn’t eat you, and look before you leap.”

One thing is clear: An enterprising lizard-ologist (sounds cooler than “herpetologist specializing in lizards”) could do worse than moving to Cochise County. This is definitely lizard country.

6 thoughts on “Cochise County Reptiles: The Southwestern Fence Lizard (Juvenile)

  1. Your fence lizard looks so much bigger than my little finger! The last photo gives a good indication of the various textures of their skin. Very interesting, Ghost!

  2. Thanks, Sha. I really appreciate the versatility of the Canon PowerShot, small enough to carry in the belt case at my left hip full time, yet capable of producing photos that can be enlarged this much with losing resolution.

    Size-wise, it might help to know that the rocks in some of the pictures are mere oversized gravel pieces, an inch and a half on average.

  3. I had one about this size get into my house when my boys were little. They were totally terrified of it and had to stand outside (in the desert) with the big ones while I caught it. Then they would come back in. I laughed about that for several years. They lost their fear of them and were out catching them for themselves before much longer. One of them made the mistake of catching one on a window once and when he smacked his hand onto the window over it, the glass broke. He came running into the house with blood pumping out of the gash in his hand. He still had the lizard but had to turn it loose for the trip to the ER for stitches.

  4. Ouch! (Slapping glass.)

    I did have a glass gash experience as a youngster myself. Don’t recall if I’ve mentioned it. I was nine at the time. Our log home’s back door was one of those with 8″ x 10″ (or some such) glass panels set in wood frames for most of its height. The living room was divided in two to give me a separate bedroom away from my sisters a year later, but at that time it was still all living room.

    The couch sat with its back to the wall and the far end not far from the door.

    Late one early winter afternoon, no snow on the ground but mighty chilly at night, we all saw Dad suddenly tear out of the yard in his pickup, peeling gravel, heading west down the highway (U.S. 10 then, before the freeway came through).

    Now, this was some exciting. I ran through the house to get a look out that back door, lickety split. A half mile to the west, where the James family lived (likely rented from Dad) in a two room cabin, the reason for Dad’s haste was obvious: Mushroom cloud of black smoke against near-sundown blue sky. I did not know it then, but Dad’s family had burned out at least 3 times over the years; house fires had a deeply personal meaning for him.

    The back door was standing a bit ajar at that moment, which was perfect for me. Up onto the couch I went, grabbing the doorframe edge with my left hand fingertips, gripping the door’s top edge with my right, yanking the door open enough to swing through (launching from the arm of the couch.

    Smooth, slick move…except for one thing. One of the glass panes split apart, a sharp, upward pointing triangle tilting out…and slashing the right side of my right calf as I completed my jungle warrior move.

    I just checked. Yep; the scar is still visible.

    No lizards involved, though. They’re kind of rare (as in nonexistent) in Montana.

    That is pretty hilarious, your boys insisting on hanging out in the desert with the big lizards…!

  5. I don’t even think they thought about the big lizards out there. They just wanted to get away from the little lizard in their abode. That was definitely dangerous. All 1 1/2″ of it, including tail. It took a bit for me to catch it, it was definitely fast. Luckily, I had lots of experience catching lizards with my brother and cousins.

  6. I’ve not had that (lizard catching experience). Caught a tiny frog once on a Boy Scout outing. Took it home in my uniform pocket. Meant to deposit it in the stock tank in the corral. Actually thought I had done that…until the next Scout meeting came up. Mom had washed and ironed my shirt with the poor thing still trapped in the pocket. That was one flattened frog. Crispy, too.

    Just published my newest Mojave green rattlesnake post. Counted the posts in the index: Seven rattlesnake tales in all, one about diamondbacks in Montana, all the rest about Mojave greens since moving to Arizona.

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