occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) The range extends from Washington and southeastern Idaho south through Oregon, California, Nevada, and western Utah to northwestern Baja California (Bell and Price 1996, Grismer 2002, Stebbins 2003), and disjunctly south to Isla de Cedros (Grismer and Mellink, 1994, J. Herpetol. 28:120-126). Elevational range extends from sea level to about 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) (Bell and Price 1996, Stebbins 2003).
Distribution: USA (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, W Utah), Mexico (N Baja California Norte, Isla de Cedros) becki:
Type locality: San Miguel Island, Gulf of California, Mexico. biseriatus: S Idaho, southwest through Nevada and W Utah into California and the San Pedro Mártir Range in Baja California.
Type locality: Borders of El Paso Creek and Tejon Valley. Restricted to El Paso Creek by SMITH & TAYLOR 1950. (El Paso Creek is in Kern Co., about ten miles northeast of Ft. Tejon). bocourti: USA (California).
Type locality: Restricted by Bell (1954), through lectotype designation, to Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Co., California. longipes:
Type locality: Fort Tejon, California [Kern County]. taylori:
Type locality: Half-way between Merced Lake and Sunrise Trail (Echo Creek Basin), elevation 7500 feet, Yosemite National Park, California.
Type locality: “California and probably Oregon”; restricted to “Benicia, Solano County, California” by GRINNEL & CAMP 1917
Length: 24 cm
Catalog Number: USNM 8612
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Year Collected: 1872
Locality: Beaver, Utah, United States, North America
- Syntype: Cope, E. D. 1872. Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the Hundredth Meridian in Charge of First Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, Zoology. 573, plate 24, figures 2-2a.
California Montane Chaparral and Woodlands Habitat
This taxon can be found in the California montane chaparral and woodlands, a near coastal ecoregion in Central and Southern California, USA. This ecoregion is disjunctive, with a major element in Southern California and another along the Monterey County coast. The ecoregion encompasses most of the Transverse Range that includes the San Bernardino Mountains; San Gabriel Mountains; portions of the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains; Topatopa Mountains; San Jacinto Mountains; the Tehachapi, Greenhorn, Piute, and Kiavah Mountains that extend roughly northeast-southwest from the southern Sierra Nevada; and the Santa Lucia Range that parallels the coast southward from Monterey Bay to Morro Bay.
The California montane chaparral and woodland ecoregion consists of a complex mosaic of coastal sage scrub, lower chaparral dominated by chamise, upper chaparral dominated by manzanita, desert chaparral, Piñon-juniper woodland, oak woodlands, closed-cone pine forests, yellow pine forests, sugar pine-white fir forests, lodgepole pine forests, and alpine habitats. The prevalence of drought-adapted scrub species in the flora of this ecoregion helps distinguish it from similar communities in the Sierras and other portions of northern California. Many of the shared Sierra Nevadan species typically are adapted to drier habitats in that ecoregion, Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) being a good example.
Oak species are an important component of many chaparral and forest communities throughout the ecoregion. Canyon Live Oak, Interior Live Oak, Tanbark Oak (not a true Quercus species), Engelmann Oak, Golden-cup Oak, and Scrub Oak are some examples. Mixed-conifer forests are found between 1371 to 2896 meters elevation with various combinations and dominance of incense cedar, sugar pine, and white fir, Jeffrey Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and mountain juniper. Subalpine forests consist of groves of Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis), Lodgepole Pine, and Jeffrey Pine. Very old individual trees are commonly observed in these relict subalpine forests. Within this zone are subalpine wet meadows, talus slope herbaceous communities, krumholz woodlands, and a few small aspen groves.
In addition to these general vegetation patterns, this ecoregion is noted for a variety of ecologic islands, communities with specialized conditions that are widely scattered and isolated and typically harbor endemic and relict species. Examples include two localities of Knobcone Pine (Pinus attenuata) on serpentine soils, scattered vernal pools with a number of endemic and relict species, and isolated populations of one of North America’s most diverse cypress floras, including the rare Gowen Cypress (Cupressus goveniana goveniana) restricted to two sites on acidic soils in the northern Santa Lucia Range, Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) found only at two coastal localities near Monterey Bay, and Sargent Cypress (Callitropsis sargentii LR/LC) restricted to serpentine outcrops. Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) is also restricted to three coastal sites near Monterey Bay.
The ecoregion is also home to a few endemic or near-endemic mammalian vertebrates, such as the White-eared Pocket Mouse (Perognathus alticolus EN), a mammal known only to two disjunct mountain ranges in southern California: San Bernardino Mountains in San Bernardino County (ssp. alticolus), and the Tehachapi Mountains, in Kern, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties. The near-endemic fossorial Agile Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys agilis) is found in the southern disjunctive unit of the ecoregion, and is known only to the Los Angeles Basin and foothills of San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains in Ventura, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties north to Santa Barbara County and through the southern Sierra Nevada, including Mount Pinos, Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, and northern San Fernando Valley. Non-endemic mammals found in the ecoregion include Botta's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) and Trowbridge's Shrew (Sorex trowbridgii). Some larger vertebrate predators can be found in the ecoregion, including Puma (Puma concolor), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Coyote (Canis latrans), and Ringtails (Bassariscus astutus).
The ecoregion boasts five endemic and near-endemic amphibians, largely Plethodontid salamanders. Some specific salamander taxa found here are the endemic Tehachapi Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps stebbinsi VU), known from isolated sites in the Caliente Creek drainage, Piute Mountains, and Kern County, California along with scattered populations in the Tehachapi Mountains to Fort Tejon, Kern County; the near-endemic Blackbelly Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps nigriventris); the Monterey Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii); the Channel Islands Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps pacificus), endemic to a narrow range restricted solely on Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands; and the Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris), found only in California and Baja California. A newt found here is the Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa). Anuran taxa in the ecoregion include the Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii NT); the Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog (Rana muscosa EN), a California endemic occurring in several disjunctive populations; and the Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora).
The California montane chaparral and woodlands ecoregions contains a number of reptiles such as the Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum), who ranges from Northern California to Baja California. Also found here is the Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus); the Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis); the Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata); and the Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana). The Two-striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii) is a restricted range reptile found near-coastally from Monterey County, California southward to Baja California.
The California Condor once inhabited much of the ecoregion, with the western Transverse Range acting today as a refuge for some of the last wild populations, after considerable conservation efforts, especially in the Los Padres National Forest. The Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni NT) is found in coastal areas of the ecoregion.
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2014."California montane chaparral and woodlands". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- Michael G.Barbour, Todd Keeler-Wolf, Allan A.Schoenherr. 2007. Terrestrial vegetation of California. University of California Press. 712 pages
California Central Valley Grasslands Habitat
This taxon is found in the California Central Valley grasslands, which extend approximately 430 miles in central California, paralleling the Sierra Nevada Range to the east and the coastal ranges to the west (averaging 75 miles in longitudinal extent), and stopping abruptly at the Tehachapi Range in the south. Two rivers flow from opposite ends and join around the middle of the valley to form the extensive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that flows into San Francisco Bay.
Perennial grasses that were adapted to cool-season growth once dominated the ecoregion. The deep-rooted Purple Needle Grass (Nassella pulchra) was particularly important, although Nodding Needle Grass (Stipa cernua), Wild Ryes (Elymus spp.), Lassen County Bluegrass (Poa limosa), Aristida spp., Crested Hair-grass (Koeleria pyramidata), Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens,), and Coast Range Melicgrass (Melica imperfecta) occurred in varying proportions. Most grass growth occurred in the late spring after winter rains and the onset of warmer and sunnier days. Interspersed among the bunchgrasses were a rich array of annual and perennial grasses and forbs, the latter creating extraordinary flowering displays during certain years. Some extensive mass flowerings of the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Lupines (Lupinus spp.), and Exserted Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja exserta) are found in this grassland ecoregion.
Prehistoric grasslands here supported several herbivores including Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), elk (including a valley subspecies, the Tule Elk, (Cervus elaphus nannodes), Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), California ground squirrels, gophers, mice, hare, rabbits, and kangaroo rats. Several rodents are endemics or near-endemics to southern valley habitats including the Fresno Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides exilis), Tipton Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides), San Joaquin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus inornatus), and Giant Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys ingens). Predators originally included grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, mountain lion, ringtail, bobcat, and the San Joaquin Valley Kit Fox (Vulpes velox), a near-endemic.
The valley and associated delta once supported enormous populations of wintering waterfowl in extensive freshwater marshes. Riparian woodlands acted as important migratory pathways and breeding areas for many neotropical migratory birds. Three species of bird are largely endemic to the Central Valley, surrounding foothills, and portions of the southern coast ranges, namely, the Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli), the Tri-colored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor EN), and Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).
The valley contains a number of reptile species including several endemic or near-endemic species or subspecies such as the San Joaquin Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki), the Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia sila EN), Gilbert’s Skink (Plestiodon gilberti) and the Sierra Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchii). Lizards present in the ecoregion include: Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum NT); Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis); Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata); and the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea).
There are only a few amphibian species present in the California Central Valley grasslands ecoregion. Special status anuran taxa found here are: Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii NT); Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla); and Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes). The Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) occurs within this ecoregion.
Although many endemic plant species are recognized, especially those associated with vernal pools, e.g. Prickly Spiralgrass (Tuctoria mucronata). A number of invertebrates are known to be restricted to California Central Valley habitats. These include the Delta Green Ground Beetle (Elaphrus viridis CR) known only from a single vernal pool site, and the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) found only in riparian woodlands of three California counties.
Vernal pool communities occur throughout the Central Valley in seasonally flooded depressions. Several types are recognized including valley pools in basin areas which are typically alkaline or saline, terrace pools on ancient flood terraces of higher ground, and pools on volcanic soils. Vernal pool vegetation is ancient and unique with many habitat and local endemic species. During wet springs, the rims of the pools are encircled by flowers that change in composition as the water recedes. Several aquatic invertebrates are restricted to these unique habitats including a species of fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp.
- World Wildlife Fund & C. Michael Hogan. 2013."California Central Valley grasslands". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- Michael G.Barbour, Todd Keeler-Wolf and Allan A. Schoenherr. 2007. Terrestrial vegetation of California. 712 pages
Comments: This lizard occupies various habitats, including grassland, sagebrush, woodland, open coniferous forest, rocky canyons, talus slopes, fence rows, etc. (Stebbins 2003). This species is not found in severe desert areas, but it comes close on mountain slopes (Stebbins 2003). Usually it is on the ground or on low perches (e.g., logs, fences), but sometimes climbs well up into taller bushes or trees. Eggs are buried in loose soil.
Habitat and Ecology
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Comments: Eats mainly insects (e.g. beetles, flies, caterpillars, and ants) and spiders.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300
Comments: This species is represented by hundreds of collection sites (e.g., see Nussbaum et al. 1983, Bell and Price 1996).
100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but certainly exceeds 100,000.
Adult males defend home range during breeding season. Seasonal home range generally much less than 0.01 ha in central California (Davis and Ford 1983). Predators: predatory birds and snakes.
When individuals on tree trunks are approached closely, they often move to the other side of the trunk.
Life History and Behavior
Comments: These lizards are generally inactive during cold weather. Duration of the inactive period varies with local climate. Emergence from hibernacula occurs in late winter or early spring, depending on local conditions.
Courtship and mating generally occur in spring. Egg laying extends from April or May to June or July in most areas. Eggs are buried in loose soil or secluded in old logs or under rocks. Clutch size in different areas ranges from 3 to 17; clutch size tends to increase with female size, latitude, and elevation. Eggs hatch in about 2 months, mostly in August or September in many areas. Individuals first breed in the spring of their second year (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Stebbins 1985).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Sceloporus occidentalis
There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sceloporus occidentalis
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)
Comments: Extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and population size are large and probably relatively stable (or slowly declining).
Global Long Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%
Degree of Threat: Medium
Comments: No major threats have been identified. Locally, conversion of habitat to intensive human uses have eliminated or reduced some populations.
Global Protection: Very many (>40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: This species occurs in many national parks, monuments, and similarly well-protected areas.
Western fence lizard
The western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a common lizard of California and the surrounding area. Because the ventral abdomen of an adult is characteristically blue, it is also known as the blue-belly.
Taxonomy for the western fence lizard has been under much debate. S. occidentalis belongs in the order Squamata (snakes and lizards) and the suborder Iguania. The family in which it belongs is still under scrutiny. The family Phrynosomatidae, along with seven other families, used to be included in the single family Iguanidae, until Frost and Etheridge's (1989) analysis of iguanian systematics suggested the family be divided. Some literature, however, still places the phrynosomatids in Iguanidae.
Six subspecies are recognized, as follows:
- Island fence lizard, S. o. becki
- San Joaquin fence lizard, S. o. biseriatus
- Coast Range fence lizard, S. o. bocourtii
- Great Basin fence lizard, S. o. longipes
- Northwestern fence lizard, S. o. occidentalis
- Sierra fence lizard, ''S. o. taylori
Some authors have raised the island fence lizard to specific rank, Sceloporus becki. However, recent work in molecular systematics has suggested there are four clades and 11 genetically separable populations, and the subspecies will probably have to be redefined.
Western fence lizards measure 5.7-8.9 cm (snout-vent length) and a total length of about 21 cm. They are brown to black in color (the brown may be sandy or greenish) and have black stripes on their backs, but their most distinguishing characteristic is their bright blue bellies. The ventral sides of the limbs are yellow. These lizards also have blue patches on their throats. This bright coloration is faint or absent in both females and juveniles. The scales of S. occidentalis are sharply keeled, and between the interparietal and rear of thighs, there are 35-57 scales.
Many other lizards have similar bright-blue coloring. The eastern fence lizard, S. undulatus, instead of having one large patch on its throat, has two small patches. The sagebrush lizard, S. graciosus, lacks yellow limbs and has smaller dorsal scales. S. occidentalis also resembles the side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana. However, the axilla of U. stansburiana usually has a black spot behind it and it has a complete gular fold.
Distribution and habitat
Although California is the heart of the range of this lizard, it is also found in eastern and southwestern Oregon (some populations are found even north of Seattle, WA), as well as in the Columbia River Gorge, southwestern Idaho, Nevada, western Utah, northwestern Baja California, Arizona, and some of the islands off the coast of both California and Baja California.
The western fence lizard occupies a variety of habitats. It is found in grassland, broken chaparral, sagebrush, woodland, coniferous forest, and farmland, and occupies elevations from sea level to 10,800 ft. They generally avoid the harsh desert.
These lizards are commonly seen sunning on paths, rocks, and fence posts, and other high places, which makes them an easy target for predation by snakes, birds, and even some mammals, such as shrews. They protect themselves by employing their fast reflexes, which are common in many other lizards.
The western fence lizard eats spiders and insects.
Like most other lizards, S. occidentalis goes through a period of hibernation during the winter. The length of time and when they emerge varies depending on climate. During the mating season, adult males will defend a home range.
Western fence lizards mate in the spring, and do not breed until the spring of their second year. Females lay one to three clutches of three to 17 eggs (usually eight) between April and July. The eggs hatch in August.
Studies have shown Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards' blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in their blood kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The blood inside the ticks' gut is therefore cleansed and no longer carries Lyme disease.
- "Sceloporus occidentalis". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 6 February 2006.
- Family Phrynosomatidae from Animal Diversity Web
- Stebbins, Robert C. "A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians." 3rd ed. Peterson Field Guides, 2003
- Sceloporus occidentalis from Idaho Museum of Natural History
- Sceloporus occidentalis from San Diego Natural History Museum
- C. Michael Hogan (2008) "Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)", Globaltwitcher, ed. Nicklas Stromberg 
- Lizards that fight Lyme disease from the California Academy of Sciences
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Sceloporus occidentalis taylori
Sceloporus occidentalis taylori is a subspecies of the western fence lizard, commonly called the Sierra fence lizard. Several subspecies of the western fence lizard, a species of phrynosomatid lizard, are found in the far western part of North America.The subspecific epithet, taylori, is in honor of American herpetologist Edward Harrison Taylor.
- H.M. Smith, 1995
- C.M. Hogan, 2008
- Beltz, Ellin. 2006. Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained. http://ebeltz.net/herps/biogappx.html.
- Hobart M. Smith (1995) Handbook of Lizards: Lizards of the United States and of Canada, Cornell University Press, 557 pages ISBN 0-8014-8236-4
- C. Michael Hogan (2008) "Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)", Globaltwitcher, ed. Nicklas Stromberg 
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Specific distinctness of S. occidentalis and S. undulatus is confirmed by their sympatric reproductive isolation in southwestern Utah (Cole 1983, Smith and Chiszar 1989). See Sites et al. (1992) for a review of phylogenetic hypotheses for lizards of the genus Sceloporus.