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Lizard Conservation in the USA – 2012 Declared “Year of the Lizard”

Collared LizardThe Partnership for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), a group comprised of private citizens, herpetologists, environmental organizations and others, has made great progress in the 10 years since its inception. 2011’s “Year of the Turtle” effort was especially effective in raising support for tortoise and turtle conservation. This year, the group has turned its attention to lizards, with an emphasis on North America’s many unique and imperiled species.

Lizard Conservation Overview

In the eye of the general public, lizards do not suffer the “image problem” that besets snakes, yet they lack the appeal of turtles and frogs. And so their conservation needs are, with few exceptions, not well-known. I sometimes wonder if the high visibility of a few common anoles and geckos in warm locales leads some (non-herp-oriented) people to regard lizard populations as relatively secure. 

The problem is not limited to the private sector. After a lifetime of working with professional herpetologists, I have the sense that lizard specialists are not in great abundance. Even the IUCN admits that the world’s 5,000+ species require more of its attention.

Only 38 of the USA’s 110-115 lizards have been classified under the Endangered Species Act. Eleven of these, including the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, Florida Sand Skink and Blunt-Nosed Leopard Lizard, are considered to be threatened or endangered.  Certainly, others need attention, and protection given to rare lizards often benefits other creatures as well. For example, the Dunes Sage brush Lizard is endemic to a unique sand dune-Shinnery Oak ecosystem in SW New Mexico and West Texas. Surveys of the habitat are not complete, but already 14 endemic insects have been discovered.

Bringing Lizards into the Spotlight

Gila MonsterIn light of the above, I applaud PARC’s decision to focus this year’s work on lizards. Coordinated research, conservation, and educational efforts will be utilized to protect and study a number of species while putting lizard conservation in the public eye. Periodic newsletters (sample and sign up here), which are always well-written, will highlight various projects, species and researchers. Anyone with an interest in lizard conservation can submit photos for possible use in PARC’s monthly calendar (click here for details), lizard art, articles, and educational materials.

Threats to US Lizards

Lizards everywhere are threatened by many of the same things that trouble other creatures, including habitat loss and fragmentation, over-exploitation, climate change and introduced species. PARC’s newsletters and updates do a great job of explaining exactly how and why these processes are occurring. Following are some unique examples.

Introduced Animals

The USA is home to approximately 150 lizard species – but only 110 or so are native!  The 40 introduced lizards negatively affect others via competition and predation, and may introduce diseases or parasites for which US lizards have no defenses.

Introduced Fire Ants are troublesome to several horned lizard species, all of which feed nearly exclusively upon ants, in several ways. By displacing native ants, they limit the lizards’ food supply (Fire Ants are not taken as prey). Fierce predators in their own right, Fire Ants also attack lizards and their eggs. They likely affect plant communities as well, which in turn can impact horned lizard survival by altering the environment.

Introduced Indian Mongooses are driving the St. Croix Ground Lizard to the brink of extinction. I was fortunate enough to see this lizard in the wild many years ago, but have been told they are now gone from the site I visited.

The list goes on – from predatory feral cats to parrots that spread the seeds of invasive shrubs, the problems posed by introduced species are legion.

Introduced Plants

Horned LizardExotic animals are not the only introduced threats that plague lizards. Plants can be as bad, or worse, especially for those species with demanding habitat requirements and small natural ranges. In the American Southwest, invasive Bufflegrass and Cheatgrass are rendering vast tracts of land uninhabitable for Reticulate Collared Lizards and Desert Horned Lizards.



Further Reading

Cattle Grazing used to restore Blunt-Nosed Lizard Habitat

Bahaman Lizards Evolve in Response to Hurricane Damage

Introduced Lizards and Reptile Ticks in Texas

Collared Lizard image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Daniel Schwen


  1. avatar

    Great post, that first picture is amazing. I love my native Aussie reptiles, but would love one of those!

    • avatar

      Hi, Thanks for the kind words. Collared lizards are amazing, aren’t they? Very interesting as well…I’ll be posting a care article soon. A number of brilliant color varieties have been bred, but naturals are stunning as they are. of course, no shortage of spectacular herps in your country; most US herpers dream of visiting! Best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Hey its me again :] ,
    I am going on a End of the year trip to Rocking Horse
    Ranch in i think Highland , New York! I heard and seen that there is a huge lake and some woods for Horse back riding, there is fishing there, and i heard there are alot of turtles there! Do you know or think i will find any salamanders , newts, frogs, lizards there?? Cause i am bringing a lot of nets and stuff and my friends think i am crazy!! There like you are going herping on the trip? HAhahaha Anyway thanks , kelly

    • avatar

      Hi Kelly,

      Nice to hear from you – especially on this topic. Many years ago, when I was a boy, my first trip “upstate”, “to the country” was to Rocking Horse Ranch! I still have the photos. The environment has changed a bit now, but at that time I saw and caught more herps than at any time in my life till that point..at least a dozen Northern Watersnakes (which caused 2 dozen bites!), and as many Eastern Garters and Brown Snakes. I saw several sizable snapping turtles; I believe there were dusky salamanders as well, along with green frogs, bull frogs and pickeral frogs. I was there in spring, and recall that it started to drizzle and frogs immediately began calling., Largemouth bass were hitting frogs and bugs right in front of me, and the largest snapper I had seen to date surfaced nearby – one of those times that remains ingrained, and which had a great effect on my future direction. Lots of interesting bus also, icl Giant Water Scavenger Beetles.

      About 10 yrs ago, I was driving in that area and stopped by. I didn’t have too much time to look around, but I did notice that the best spot I had found years ago, a small swamp off the main lake, had filled in with brush etc and was now solid ground, unfortunately. If you look at the lake while standing near the shore nearest the lodge, the swamp was at the far end of the lake, and off to the right. But that doesn’t mean animals are not still there, some just had to re-locate. Much will depend on the human activity that has gone on since I first visited, but there and in the surrounding areas you could very well see just about any herp native to NY.

      You can lure snappers close with a can of sardines or fish-based catfood; poke holes in the can or, for flip tops, pull back the top a bit. Tie can to some cord so it stays put; you can also throw it in deep water and pull in very slowly after a time. Works for mud, musk and others also, if they are around.

      A heavy, long handled net (i.e. these koi nets) is great for pulling through water plants…you may find tads, newts, frogs, insects, fish. On a few occasions, I’ve come up with small and even sizeable turtles as well. If you have a partner, a seine net is even better, but wear shoes and gloves…I’ve once needed stitches to close a cut on my finger, seining in what looked like a “clean” lake in Riverhead, NY.

      Minnow traps baited with sardines, cat food sometimes attract watersnakes and garters. If you put the trap in water, be sure part of it extends above the water, so any snakes that enter can breath. They will also swallow fish tied to a string – please see this article for more info.

      The woods and surrounding fields might be home to box/wood turtles, turning over logs etc. may yield other snakes, salamanders….both timber rattlers and copperheads, both venomous, could theoretically be in the area; never (this applies absolutely anywhere on earth – for many reasons!) put your hands in a spot you cannot see (i.e. when turning a log) and never step over a log without looking at other side first, least a snake in resting there.

      Be sure to use tick spray (again, most anywhere).

      Anywhere can turn into a herp trip – some of my most exciting finds were unexpected – dusky salamanders, black racers, gray fox and many more on Bx Zoo grounds, a rare treefrog in a bathroom in Venezuela, another odd frog in a well-tended rice field in Japan, a 70+ pound snapper in a tiny pond on LI, and so on – you never know, keep your eyes open and you’ll always have much of interest to occupy your time.

      Please let me know if you need any info, if I don;t hear from you before you go, good luck, have fun and let me know how it turns out.

      Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    HEY, thanks for the info!!
    I am going in two days! It is supposed to rain tuesday(tom.) and wednesday my day of trip will be raining on and off! So good weather for finding salamanders. Hope i will find some. One last question : Should I look under rocks or Logs?? My dad always says he finds them under rocks not logs, logs are for toads! Is this a theory or correct? If any more info i would love the input! Hopefully the next time i write i will tell you about my findings!
    Thanks again , Kelly

    • avatar

      Hi Kelly,

      My pleasure; I’m happy for you. Wet weather in spring may also bring out snakes, box turtles and others; reptiles might be esp active if some sun follows a wet period. In my experience, salamanders do seem to stay under rocks often, as those spots often retain moisture longer than log bottoms; however, I have found slimy, spotted and other species under logs that had been in place for a long time, and had a thick layer of rotten wood below; try peeling bark as well. Toads are less reliant on wet spots, and so may be under either. Habitat type may have a big influence – where rocks are scarce, both may used logs, and vice-versa. Be sure not to stick your hands under logs or rocks or in other places that you cannot see. In time, you may wish to consider a stump ripper – makes the work easier and prevents bites from hidden creatures.

      Happy hunting, I look forward to hearing from you, Best Frank

  4. avatar

    Saw you mentioning my study animal… 🙂 I am defending my Master’s Thesis in two weeks on “Correlation of Habitat Factors on the Presence or Absence of Eastern Collared Lizards (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) in Arkansas!” Right now they are of ‘special concern’ in the state, but hopefully with my research and a little time they will be placed in a more threatened status, because their habitat is being destroyed.

    • avatar

      Wonderful, Ashley.

      Good luck and I hope you find related work – nothing like following your passion, I can assure you. Please keep me posted and check in with comments when you can, Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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