San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Southern Sagebrush Lizard, by Jim Melli

Sceloporus vandenburgianus
Southern Sagebrush Lizard


Sceloporus from the Greek skelos, meaning leg and porus, meaning pores, in reference to their femoral pores located along the underside of the leg. The name vandenburgianus has been given to this species in honor of the herpetologist John Van Denburgh (1872-1924), who was a past curator of the California Academy of Sciences. In Spanish, the Southern Sagebrush Lizard has no specific common name and is simply referred to as a lagartija.


Southern Sagebrush Lizard, by Jim Melli

The Southern Sagebrush Lizard is a relatively small lizard, measuring up to 2 5/8 inches (snout-vent length). Dorsal ground colors include various shades of gray and brown, overlaid with blotches and crossbars. A black bar can usually be found on the shoulder. Typical individuals have a rusty color around their armpits, as well as, on the sides of the neck and body. Unlike the Western Fence Lizard, the Southern Sagebrush Lizard lacks yellow or orange on the posterior surface of the hindlimbs. The scales of the Southern Sagebrush Lizard appear more granular. Males are known for their vibrant blue belly markings that are bordered by black. Most males also have a blue throat patch that may appear speckled with white or pink. Females generally have fainter markings, or lack them altogether.

Subspecies: Currently there are no recognized subspecies. Until recently, the Southern Sagebrush Lizard was regarded as a subspecies of the Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus).

Range and Habitat

The distribution of the Southern Sagebrush Lizard extends in a series of disjunct, montane sky islands from Los Angeles County, southward to the Sierra San Pedro Martir in Baja California. It is commonly found above 5,000 feet in elevation, depending on latitude These lizards enjoy open ground, with clear sunlight and dappled low vegetation.

Natural History

Behavior: Logs, stumps, and rocks are common sunning spots. During the warmer parts of the day, individuals may seek shaded refuge under bushes, rocks, or woodpiles. When frightened, they will retreat into holes, thick brush, or leaf litter. They may also dart off to the underside of stationary objects or occasionally scurry up trees. This agile lizard can leap from place to place in pursuit of prey.

Breeding: One to two clutches of two to eight eggs may be laid in the summer months (June to August).

Prey and Predators: The diet of the Southern Sagebrush Lizard includes many types of arthropods, including insects (primarily ants) and spiders. Potential predators include diurnal snakes and predatory birds.

Conservation Status

There has been no proposed conservation plans.

Suggested Reading

Grismer, L. Lee. 2002. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Its Pacific Islands, and the Islands in the Sea of Cortes. University of California Press. 409 pp.

Text by Daniel Palmer and Bradford Hollingsworth.
Photos by Jim Melli.

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