'Tis the Season for Baby Lizards

July 28, 2015

Over the last few weeks, baby lizards have been hatching out of their eggs throughout Southern California. Most of these baby lizards are one of two widespread species, the Western Fence Lizard and the Side-blotched Lizard, but it is also hatching season for many of Southern California’s other lizard species.

Father and son citizen scientists Drew and Jude Ready observed a baby Western Fence Lizard in Claremont on June 30th. Jude carefully picked up the tiny lizard, while Drew took a photo that he then submitted to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project. 

Western Fence Lizards are also frequently called “blue belly” lizards because of the bright blue patches on their abdomen and chin. If you are in the L.A. area and see a lizard on a rock doing “push up” displays, it is this lizard. In Southern California, Western Fence Lizards breed in mid to late March and the females lay eggs 2–4 weeks after that. After about two months, these eggs hatch, resulting in the many baby Western Fence Lizards we can observe in late June and July. 

Western Fence Lizard females can lay up to three clutches of eggs per year. As a result, we can expect more tiny baby lizards for the next couple of months as subsequent clutches hatch. Hatchlings are about 1 inch long, or “1 inch SVL” in herpetological lingo. SVL stands for snout to vent length. Because many lizard species can easily drop their tails, scientists measure lizard body size excluding the tail. Thus, lizard body size is measured from the tip of the snout to the vent (aka the cloaca). 

Stevie Kennedy-Gold, who has been working on several Museum field projects this spring and summer, has also been documenting lizards for the RASCals project. She photographed this baby Side-blotched Lizard in the Baldwin Hills. Side-blotched Lizards take on a different strategy than Western Fence Lizards. Whereas Western Fence Lizards live for several years, the Side-blotched Lizard is largely an annual species, meaning they tend to live for only about one year. Female Side-blotched Lizards can produce as many as eight clutches with up to eight eggs per clutch! 

Like the Western Fence Lizards, Side-blotched Lizards start breeding in mid to late March, lay eggs a few weeks later, and these eggs hatch after 1.5–2 months. The babies are extra small with a SVL of 0.8 to 1 inch. The telltale side-blotch, which is found just behind the armpit, is often not yet very obvious in the babies, as you can see (or really…as you can’t see) in the photo above. To differentiate Western Fence Lizards from Side-blotched Lizards, you often have to use relative scale size; scales are larger and pointier in the Western Fence Lizard, whereas the scales on the backs of Side-blotched Lizards are smaller, almost with a pebble-like appearance. If you have trouble telling the two apart, don’t worry, just send in a photo and I or others participating in the RASCals project can help you out. 

As you wander around Southern California, if you see any baby lizards, or any other lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, or salamanders, please take a photo and email it to rascals@nhm.org so your observation can be added to the RASCals project. Happy lizarding!


(Posted by: Greg Pauly)

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Lizard Love Bites

May 27, 2015

Have you recently seen lizards in L.A. that appear to be biting each other, or maybe they are trying to eat each other? 

If you have, you are not alone. Citizen scientist, Diana Beardsley, saw these two in her lizard-filled backyard and sent us this picture. It became the latest data point in our Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California project (RASCals) which helps us understand the state of urban lizard populations. It also helped us realize a pattern!

Diana was not the only one to send us a picture of one lizard biting another. Many of the people who sent us these pictures were not sure exactly what they were witnessing–were they fighting, trying to eat each other, or doing something else entirely?

Turns out it was something else.

What looks like a fight between two lizards, is actually a form of lizard courtship, a lizard love bite if you will. Museum herpetologist, Dr. Greg Pauly says, "male alligator lizards bite the female behind the head during mating, which holds her in place until she is ready." Lizards have been observed in this position for a long time—sometimes over an hour, and oftentimes moving through open spaces which makes them easily visible. Some people speculate that the mating hold is a show of strength by the male, to prove how worthy of a mate he is. However, as Greg points out, there's no data to support this claim but he concedes that it could prove to be true. 

All of this might sound a little harsh to some people, but this mating behavior has not been known to harm the female. If you see lizards engaged in this behavior, please do not try to separate them or move them, as this could harm the lizards. This is their normal behavior, and an integral part of their mating ritual.

When Greg saw Diana's photo he wasn't surprised, "it's mating season and this is a typical mating hold exhibited by alligator lizards." Southern alligator lizards (Elgaria multicarinata) are the most widespread lizards in urban L.A., but they can be secretive and fast, which sometimes make them hard to photograph. However, during the breeding season finding two lizards out in the open—one biting another—leads to lots of curious people taking photos. All told, we received seven photos of lizards mating in March and April, which is about 10% of all RASCals submissions during the time period.

Here are some more pictures of alligator lizards in the mating hold: 

On March 19, Louise Whitaker saw these Alligator lizards and sent the photo in to our nature@nhm.org e-mail.

On March 27, Ron Matumoto submitted this picture to the RASCals project on iNaturalist:

Finally, on April 22, Jean Brandt sent in this photo.

These images provide photographic evidence that lizards in these areas are healthy enough to support breeding populations. If the photos come from urban and suburban areas, then Greg and other scientists can study them to understand why lizard populations are able to survive despite the proliferation of human development.

Greg says, "As we grow RASCals, we should get dozens of these mating entries. Once we have them, I think I will be able to write a paper about breeding behavior of these lizards entirely based on citizen science observations. It will be awesome."

So if you see lizards entangled in a love bite (or doing anything at all, Greg's really not that picky) please take a photo and send them to rascals@nhm.org. Your photos will help us better understand lizards in L.A.

Co-authored by Richard Smart and Lila Higgins

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Beneath the Perch

June 23, 2017

Twelve Days of Los Angeles Nature: 2013

December 23, 2013

Let's celebrate another year of L.A.'s AMAZING BIODIVERSITY. The benevolent blogger that I am, here are your gifts:

Twelve Rattlers Rattling

Eleven Potter Wasps Piping

Ten Flies Decapitating (decapitating ants that is)

Nine Dragons Dancing (in the L.A. River)

Eight Mantids a Milking

Seven Planarians a Swimming

Six Lizards a Laying

Five Foxes Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!

Four Glowing Worms (yes, they're glowworm beetles)

Three French Opossums

Two Turtle Newts

and P-22 in the Hollywood Hills

Here's to another year full of amazing Los Angeles nature discoveries!

*P-22 image courtesy of the Griffith Park Connectivity Study

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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