Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Diversion to Southern Utah, Part 1: Reptiles (of Primarily the Lizard-Sort)

Gary and I took our semi-regular trip to southern Utah this July (later than usual, with hopes that some monsoonal rain might have brought out new and different things than we have seen in June in the past).

The monsoons had delivered a couple weeks previously, and the vegetation was quite lush and green in most of the places we visited. And insect and other animal life was pretty abundant. We drove to the Ponderosa Grove Campground just north of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (in Kane County) for the first night, then spent two nights on the west end of Long Canyon in the Grand Staircase Escalante NM next (the same spot we stayed in two years earlier), then spent the last three nights at Canyonlands National Park, at the Squaw Flat Campground (something new for us).

This installment will cover some of the scaly ones we saw. Many of the lizards in this region of the southwest are a bit different from the common ones we see in southern California, although there is certainly some overlap of species.

Sceloperus graciosus, the Common Sagebrush Lizard. They DID seem pretty common - definitely the species we saw most frequently on the trip. This one was at the Ponderosa Grove Campground. It posed for its picture very cooperatively (as did most of the others we encountered on the trip). 
Another S. graciosus. This one was the most beautifully-colored one we saw. It was also at the Ponderosa Grove Campground.
The "lizard of the trip" (I would say). Gambelia wizlizenii (the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard). We saw two of these spectacular creatures, both on walks at Canyonlands, near the Squaw Flat Campground. Gary spotted both of them.
Another sagebrush lizard, blending fairly well with the never-ending Utah red-rock landscape. Canyonlands NP.
A pair of side-blotched lizards on a rock on our walk back to camp at Canyonlands (on the first morning).
I'm guessing these are Plateau Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana uniformis). This was one of the pair shown above.
The other member of the pair shown above. Slightly different markings.
A slender-looking side-blotched - showing off the blotch! Only after looking at the photo later did I see all the missing digits on the right forefoot.
Western Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris. This bold lizard was rummaging around in the Datura which was abundant in our campsite. We watched it as it found a prey item of some sort and then saw that it was a nice sphingid caterpillar (something I would have liked photographing!).  The lizard kept partially-swallowing the caterpillar, crunching down on it over and over, and eventually it went down the hatch. This was the only photo I got that had some decent resolution, but this episode reminded me of the alligator lizard that ate the HUGE sphinx moth caterpillar on our Datura at home a few years back. 
Our caterpillar-eater. Luckily the cat is mostly water...
This snake zoomed past when we were exploring the ephemeral pools with shrimp in them at Canyonlands. My best guess is Coluber taeniatus, the Striped Whipsnake.
Lesser Earless Lizard, Holbrookia maculata, probably H. maculata campi, the Plateau Earless Lizard. This hot little guy was not in Utah, actually. It was seen in a sagebrush area north of Flagstaff, Arizona about two weeks later (on my Arizona trip).


  1. Replies
    1. We saw very different ones (lizards) in years past. Maybe I should post them too ("throwback lizards")...

  2. My favourite shot is of the Alligator Lizard swallowing the caterpillar of the Hawk Moth which was found within the Jimson Weed (Datura) which has extremely toxic qualities. For folks who don't know, the common Tomato plant in your garden is also a flavourite of the Hawk Moth as a host. What I am now wondering is how the Lizard deals with those toxic ingredients ingested by the Caterpillar ? My main interest here of course is shedding light on mechanisms to be replicated and utilized in the urban landscape and agriculture in general, which is something most of the industrial scientific world has no interest in because a price tag cannot be attached to a product for sale. I have always found the majority of Alligator Lizard populations to be huge within urban landscape environments from the time I was a kid in the very early 1960s until I stopped being a landscape supervisor in 2006.

    Thank you for capturing this.

    1. Good point - don't know why I didn't think of that (why the lizard can eat such a toxin-laden thing - unless the caterpillar neutralizes those toxins somehow). Of course I can't say I followed that alligator lizard around to see what happened to it later. But I remember the classic images of the jay tossing up the monarch butterfly that it had eaten (and learning to avoid all monarch-like creatures). And birds and lizards are very close relatives. Would have to spend some time researching that one...

    2. Your pic is a big hit over at my FB page which has been reshared by numerous people, including the California Chaparral Institute and countless shares off their posting it. Oh well, I close my FB page on October 1 and stick with Google=

    3. Unbelievable, I meant Google+ , key board here is different from my Swedish one

    4. Thanks for sharing it! I am fully entrenched on FB, and haven't gotten far with Google Plus, so am not likely to change...I would really need a time machine to be able to keep up with it all properly ;-)

  3. I have seen birds feed on Manduca cats quite often, Even once a Northern Cardinal that plucked one from a Datura and ate it bit by bit. It seems that Datura feeders and Milkweed feeders are very different. Maybe the Datura feeder provides just a pleasant buzz? Quite noticeably both the Manduca cat and the moth are cryptic in color, and the Milkweed feeders rather aposematic - does that hint at something?

    1. It does - good point! Would be interesting to see if anyone has done biochemical studies...

  4. Fantastic pictures!!