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NATURAL HISTORY

DUNES SAGEBRUSHLIZARD } Sceloporus arenicolus
FAMILY: Phrynosomatidae


DESCRIPTION: A small, diurnal species, the dunes sagebrush lizard is light brown without a distinct coloring pattern except for a grayish-brown band that extends from the ear to the tail. On some individuals, the chin and throat have scattered blue spots.

HABITAT: The dunes sagebrush lizard is found only in its characteristic dune terrain. The dunes area is partially stabilized by shinnery oak, bluestem grass species, yucca, and other plant species. The lizard lives in low, open spaces called “blow-outs” between dunes. It prefers ample space with plenty of shinnery growing in the vicinity.

RANGE: The dunes sagebrush lizard occurs in Chaves, Eddy, Lea, and Roosevelt counties in New Mexico and Andrews, Crane, Gaines, Ward, and Winkler counties in Texas.

MIGRATION: The dunes sagebrush lizard is strictly nonmigratory.

BREEDING: Females can produce one to two clutches of three to six eggs each. The first clutch is laid in late June and the second in late July. Hatching occurs between late July and late September.

LIFE CYCLE: Females reach sexual maturity in their first spring after hatching. Some individuals live and reproduce for two years.

FEEDING: The dunes sagebrush lizard feeds on ants, small beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. In order to protect itself from predators as it feeds during the day, the lizard generally feeds within, or immediately adjacent to, patches of vegetation.

THREATS: Habitat destruction by oil and gas development and herbicide spraying is the primary threat. Competition from other lizard species that are better adapted to the changed habitat may be a threat as well. The dunes sagebrush lizard’s fragmented range leaves the species vulnerable to local extinction from other factors, including fire and years of poor reproduction.

POPULATION TREND: The dunes sagebrush lizard possesses many characteristics of a species at risk of extinction. It is an extreme habitat specialist, has a restricted and fragmented distribution, and is rapidly losing habitat to herbicide spraying and oil and gas development.

 

Dunes sagebrush lizard photo © Robert M. Findling, Nature Conservancy New Mexico