U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A close-up shot of a sagebrush lizard perching on a purple-brown rock. The lizard is small, narrow, and brown, with bright green markings on its face

Sagebrush Lizard

(Scleoporus graciuosus)

Information icon Creative Commons licensed photo by Allan Hack.

Jump to a section:


Taxon: Reptile

Range: AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA and WY

Status: State Managed


The sagebrush lizard is a gregarious creature and readily interacts with other lizards.

Not to be confused with the “dunes sagebrush lizard” that is only found in Texas and New Mexico, the common sagebrush lizard has a much larger range and is more abundant. A year-round resident of the sagebrush ecosystem, they are most active during the day and throughout the warmer months, beginning in March or April until as late as October.

The sagebrush lizard is a gregarious creature and readily interacts with other lizards. Their natural predators include whip snakes, night snakes, other lizards, and a variety of predatory birds including raptors and passerines, and sagebrush lizards sometimes use rodent burrows to escape their hunters.

The total population of the sagebrush lizard is unknown but, as of 2016, is estimated to exceed 100,000 individuals. The species is considered common throughout its range. Short-term population trends are stable, or perhaps slightly declining. Long-term trends are unknown with both declines and increases reported via Natureserve. The extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and range-wide population size appear to be stable.

A close-up shot of a sagebrush lizard perching on a grey rock. The lizard is small, narrow, and brown. Picture taken from below the lizard, showing its white-grey underbelly
Creative Commons licensed photo by Jon Sullivan.

News, Blogs, and Multimedia


Appearance

Sagebrush lizards are relatively small, narrow lizards with small spiny dorsal scales and a pale dorsolateral strip on each side. They are brown, olive or gray on their backs, and their undersides are white. Adult males have blue patches on each side of the belly and their throat is mottled or streaked with blue. Adult females have only a pale blue coloration on their bellies, but may develop red or orange colors when gravid.

A close-up shot of a sagebrush lizard - a small, narrow, brown lizard with small spiny dorsal scales and a pale dorsolateral strip on each side
Creative Commons licensed photo by Jon Sullivan.

Habitat

Despite their name, sagebrush lizards occur in a variety of habitats including deserts, open conifer forests, mixed forests, grasslands, sand dunes, and shrublands. Occupied areas often have open ground with some low shrubs. Grass cover is usually less than 10% - 20%, and sites with extensive leaf and other litter are avoided. Sagebrush lizards regularly perch on rocks, logs, or snags. They also burrow in soils and will use rodent burrows, shrubs, and logs for cover.


Diet

Sagebrush lizards are invertivores, eating beetles, flies, ants, caterpillars, aphids, and other insects, as well as spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions. They will also occasionally cannibalize their hatchlings. Most adult female sagebrush lizards produce two clutches of 1-8 eggs annually, while northern lizards are more likely to only produce only one clutch annually.

Faster growth rates in sagebrush lizards may be associated with the abundance of free water within their habitats.

In the winter, the lizards hibernate or become inactive.


Range

A map of the western United States, showing western Texas to several hundred miles off of the western coast. The top edge of the map shows northern Saskatchewan west to the middle of British Columbia. Inside the United States, purple coloring indicates where the species is a permanent resident. The range stretches from northwestern New Mexico north to Wyoming, with tiny blobs in Montana and North Dakota. The western edge of the purple area stretches to Washington and Oregon, both with partial coverage, and south to large swaths of California. The entirety of Utah is purple and nearly all of Nevada is as well. The legend on the right shows, at the top, a zoomed-out map of North and South America, with a red box indicating the range of the main map on the left. Below this mini-map is a legend with purple indicating permanent resident, along with other colors and markings, all of which are not visible on either map. Logo on the bottom for Nature Serve
Distribution map by NatureServe.

Sagebrush lizards occur at elevations ranging from 500 feet to 10,500 feet. They are found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Their range also extends into Mexico, although some scientists question whether the southernmost distribution of the lizard may potentially be a separate species.


Conservation Challenges

On a range-wide basis, no major threats have been identified for this species. However, localized habitat loss and degradation may result in local declines or extirpation. Along with the use of pesticides, the use of off-road recreation vehicle traffic, and increased road traffic associated with oil and gas development have been identified as potential conservation concerns for sagebrush lizards in South Dakota.

Habitat for sagebrush lizards is also degraded by the invasion of non-native plants, such as cheatgrass, and the removal of the sagebrush plants they use for cover. Excessive livestock grazing can also degrade habitat by damaging shrub structure, negatively affecting cover for the lizards.


For More Information

A brown lizard with blue belly on a rust colored rock
Creative Commons licensed photo by Steve Harbula.