Have you ever wondered what types of lizards live near your home in Orange County, California? When you see lizards here in Southern California, a few images come to mind: small brown or gray lizards with blue bellies, large alligator lizards with vibrant orange, red, and brown colors, or maybe you have seen a horned lizard in our local SoCal deserts. There are plenty of lizards in California – we will touch on a few of the more common ones here!
Most lizards have similar diets - they are an insectivore, they eat insects (of different varieties), fruits, plants, and sometimes other lizards or other small animals. Lizards are reptiles, and are cold-blooded (meaning they need the warmth of the sun to heat up their bodies and allow them to move around and function). They are the most abundant reptile, with thousands of species around the world and up to 60 species in California alone!
Unfortunately, lizards are sometimes considered pests when they are in our backyards or homes. In reality, lizards (since they are insectivores) are actually quite helpful to have near your home! They are relatively harmless to you and to your garden plants, so leaving them alone and allowing them to flourish in your yard is your best option!
There are so many interesting facts about these creatures and you will be relieved to know that most of the lizards you will encounter are harmless to you. Many of them have camouflage adaptations to hide from predators (their scales and coloring match their usual environments to help them blend in). Their tails are also their best weapons – when a predator attacks them, the tail of many lizards will detach and continue to move and distract the predator while the lizard slips away unnoticed. Their tails will usually grow back, so this protective mechanism is harmless to the lizard!
Main Orange County Lizards
This lizard is found on the island parts of Orange County, mainly near hills and mountain ranges. These lizards live in the shrubland and forests in Orange County and do not move further north than San Bernardino county. They are a native species, mainly eating bugs, fleshy fruits from plants, beetles, or other flower buds.
Fun Fact: Males have a deep blue ventral patch on their chest and throat, as well as yellow green scales all over their body. The males flare these colorful patches to threaten and scare away rival males, and to attract females for mating!
This lizard can be found in many areas in Southern California, can reach about 4 inches in length (without measuring the tail), and they mainly feast on ants. These lizards are clever, and can fool predators in a variety of ways, including staying perfectly still and unnoticed or using their horned appearance to camouflage into their background.
Fun Fact: If all other defense tactics fail, this lizard can literally shoot a stream of blood from their eyes! This stream can travel up to 6 feet, and it is aimed at their attacker!
Southern Alligator Lizards are found in warm spaces near creeks (they are cold-blooded, so they need places to warm themselves during the day). Alligator lizards are very long and slender, though most of the time they are curled up and their tail is not extended. Alligator lizards survive mainly on insects, but they will also eat other lizards, spiders, and even bird eggs.
Fun Fact: These lizards are immune to black widow venom, so they will often eat them as well!
This lizard is probably the one that you see most often, residing on the fences in your backyard! These lizards can vary in size, and the males have bright blue strips on either side of their underbelly, while the females have lighter blue on the bottom of their bodies. Though they might look like a common sagebrush lizard, the sagebrush lizards are found at higher elevations than the Fence Lizards. These lizards can look very dark brown, almost black in color, before they are warmed up by the sun.
Fun Fact: These lizards carry a protein in their bodies that can kill lyme disease! When ticks that already have lyme disease feed on these lizards, their lyme disease is eliminated! Lyme disease does not show up very often in habitats where these lizards reside.
How can you help protect our local lizard populations?
As you have now learned, lizards are an important part of our local ecosystem and provide environmental services such as insect control and more. On your next hike or walk in your own backyard, try to identify the lizards you see! Lizards are sometimes taken for granted because they are so common in our Southern California habitat, but they play an important role in the food chain and ecosystem in Orange County (and anywhere they live)!
Most lizards local to us in Southern California are harmless: you can do your part to protect these little creatures by not disturbing them in your backyard or in the wild. They love to hide under bushes or in man-made alcoves, so if you want to provide shelter for your local lizards plant bushy perennials, and add some man-made homes for them (like stacked pipes or bricks). These shelters can prevent natural predators from harming the local backyard lizards!
Here are some helpful resources to help you learn more about our local lizards: