Female sheltering in heat of day. Open mouth is a thermoregulatory behavior of last resort before a retreat into deep shade is necessary.The Center for Biological Diversity and Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 28, 2002 to list the sand dune lizard as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The sand dune lizard has the second smallest range of any lizard endemic to North America, only occurring in a narrow crescent shaped area of southeastern New Mexico and western Texas. Within this range, the sand dune lizard only occurs on sand dune "blowouts" topped by the unusual shinnery oak. Such habitats occur in a highly fragmented distribution, increasing the sand dune lizard's likelihood of extinction.

Shinnery oak is often just 4-5' tall, but can be thousands of years old and comprises the largest stand of oak in the country. The heart of the sand dune lizard's range is the Mescalero Sands-a beautiful area of rolling dunes in southeastern New Mexico-found on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and threatened by oil and gas development and herbicide spraying.

photo by Don SiasVery large blowout and shinnery dunes in the central part of the range (Mescalero Sands north of Hwy 380). The mound formations - coppices form as a result of wind erosin and obviously indicate substantial sand transport (habitat movement).

 

 

 

Under President Bush's energy policy, already rampant oil and gas development is rapidly increasing on federal lands, resulting in dramatic losses of sand dune lizard habitat. Controlled studies found that relatively small numbers of oil and gas wells resulted in dramatically lower sand dune lizard populations.

Habitat loss related to oil and gas development is compounded by herbicide spraying to remove shinnery oak for the benefit of cattle. Shinnery oak is toxic to cattle for a couple of months every year and competes with grasses and other forage and thus many ranchers would rather see this native plant dead. Like oil and gas development, herbicide spraying has been demonstrated to result in severe sand dune lizard population declines.

photo by Don SiasRecognizing the severity of the threats to the sand dune lizard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently made it a candidate for listing, giving it the highest priority for action a species can receive.

The sand dune lizard is a small, brown lizard that buries itself in sand to avoid predators and regulate its body temperature. It occurs in Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt Counties in New Mexico and Andrews, Crane, Gaines, Ward and Winkler Counties in Texas.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
September 10, 2003
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