Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard
The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard is a small, highly specialized
reptile that inhabits the windblown desert regions of the Coachella Valley
in Riverside County, California. It derives its common name not only from
its home, but also from the enlarged scales along its toes. This lizard
has adapted other unique forms and structures to enable it to survive in
the harsh desert habitat including a wedged-shaped nose which enables it
to burrow through loose, fine sand, elongated scales cover the ears to
keep out blowing sand, and specialized nostrils that allow it to breathe
below the sand without inhaling sand particles.
The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard has a whitish or sand-colored back
and belly, with a light pattern of eye-like markings that form shoulder
stripes. Fringe-toed lizards average 6 to 9 inches in length. Breeding
occurs from late April through mid-August. Little is known about the location
and timing of egg laying, however, hatchlings begin to appear from late
June to early September. They hibernate during the winter and are most
active during the daylight hours. When summer temperatures reach or exceed
lethal limits, the lizard escapes from the heat by “swimming” or
burrowing beneath the sand and restricts its activities to the early morning
and late afternoon hours.
• What is the historic range?
• What do they eat?
• Why the CVFT lizard is endangered?
• What is being done to save the lizard?
• What is the future of the Coachella Valley fringe-toed
What was the historic range
of the fringe-toed lizard?
Historically, the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard inhabited about 270
square miles of sand dune habitat in Coachella Valley, California. The
sand dunes, often referred to as “blowsand” habitat, consist
of fine sand that accumulates at the bottom of drainages across the Coachella
Valley by high winds that continually blow through the area. Today, the
fringe-toed lizard habitat has been reduced to about 50 square miles, but
only about 19 square miles of this land continues to receive the naturally
occurring “blowsand” that is essential to the long-term survival
of the lizard. One of the largest remaining populations of the lizard is
found within the Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Coachella
Click here to see current map of Refuge.
What do fringe-toed lizards
The food habits of this lizard species are not well studied, but scientists
do know that it is omnivorous. Studies document the lizards feed on small
insects, such as ants and bees, along with leaves, buds, or seeds from
native plants that grow in the Coachella Valley.
Why is the Coachella
Valley fringe-toed lizard endangered?
The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard is threatened by a continual loss
of habitat from human development. The majority of the lizard’s historic
habitat has been eliminated or degraded because of the direct and indirect
effects of development. Structures erected on the sand transport corridor
areas and the introduction of non-native, invasive plant species, such
as tamarisk, are stabilizing the once free moving sand deposits, preventing
the continued replenishment of the “blowsand” habitat which
the lizard relies on for its long-term survival.
What is being done
to save the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Coachella Valley fringe-toed
lizard as threatened, under the Endangered Species Act, in 1980. It is
listed as an endangered species by the State of California. At the time
the Service listed the lizard as threatened, about 12,000 acres of critical
habitat were designated. This acreage includes the areas with the highest
lizard concentrations and a source for the “blowsand” habitat
on which the lizard depends for its long-term survival. The 3,709 acre
Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service in 1985 to protect the lizard. The Coachella Valley
Preserve, cooperatively managed by The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land
Management, California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department
of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Natural
Lands Management, encompasses an additional 16,405 acres of fringe-toed
lizard habitat adjacent to the Refuge.
What more can be done to
secure the long-term survival of the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard?
Protection of the sand source for the “blowsand” ecosystem
on which the lizard depends is very important to the long-term conservation
of this native desert species. The Service is initiating a planning effort
with Federal, tribal, state and local partners to look at alternative means
to protect the sand source and transport area that feeds the dunes on the