The Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard is an animal that is unique to the Coachella Valley, that escapes the heat by "swimming" or burrowing beneath the sand.
The Coachella Valley is located at the northern extension of the Colorado Desert and is bordered by the Salton Sea to the south and the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the north. Sand that washes down drainages during flood events accumulates at the bottom of the drainages, then is dispersed throughout the Valley by the continual high winds that blow through the area. This ever-shifting sand forms a complex system of sand dunes that support a variety of native desert species.
Coachella Valley Sand Dunes
Why is the sand dune ecosystem important?
The sand dune ecosystem of the Coachella Valley supports a variety of animals and plants specially adapted to living in the harsh desert environment. These distinct and sometimes rare species have evolved because the blowsand deposits of the Valley are relatively isolated from other areas by the surrounding mountain ranges. The threatened Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, the endangered Coachella Valley milk vetch, Coachella Valley round-tailed ground squirrel, Coachella Valley giant sand treader cricket, and the Coachella Valley Jerusalem cricket are among the variety of species that occur in this specialized “blowsand” habitat.
Why is the sand dune ecosystem endangered?
From prehistoric times to the nineteenth century, the Cahuilla Indians were the sole inhabitants of the Coachella Valley. As a hunter-gatherer society, the Cahuilla established a number of permanent and semi-permanent settlements within the Valley. Beginning in the early 1900s, European settlers established routes of travel through the Valley and erected permanent settlements. Agriculture, housing developments, off-highway vehicle recreation, and the introduction of non-native, invasive plant species have resulted in the direct loss of sand dunes and interruption of the natural sand transport corridors. Today, more than 100,000 people permanently reside in the Coachella Valley, with more than 1 million additional people visiting the area each year. By 2010, the number of permanent residents is expected to double. The continuing development of the Coachella Valley will have significant effects on the “blowsand” habitat of the Coachella Valley. Without a concerted effort to conserve the habitat in the near future, the remaining habitat will become increasingly fragmented. Shielded and degraded, this rare ecosystem could disappear entirely as soon as 50 years from now.
What is being done to save the sand dune ecosystem?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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 areas required to maintain the “blowsand” habitat of the Coachella Valley.
What is 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 Valley Preserve.
Click here to see current map of Refuge.
What do fringe-toed lizards eat?
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 Refuge.