Madrean Alligator Lizard (Gerrhonotus kingii)
Main sources: Stebbins, Robert, 1985, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Houghton Mifflin; Behler, John & Wayne King, 1979, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians, NY: Alfred Knopf.
These lizards are not commonly seen in our area. According to Stebbins, Alligator Lizards are "Chiefly a mountain form that frequents chaparral, oak woodland, and pine-fir forests in rocky places near permanent or temporary streams. May also occur in broadleaf stream-border habitats along major drainageways in desert and grassland.... Sometimes abroad at dusk or after dark." (Cited above, p. 166) They are found up to 9,000 feet in altitude. We saw this one on a late November afternoon in 1998, at about 4,000 feet elevation in the main wash a short way above the High Tank, which is quite steep at the base of a north-facing hill slope. This wash does have somewhat more moisture than most other of our uplands locations (and is also rather well-shaded from intense sun), but only Hackberry bushes and a juniper tree stand there as markers of greater moisture -- no oak or pine anywhere near here. Seeing the creature was a startling experience: coming upon a snake-like form in the middle of the wash, but who proved to have tiny legs and quickly scrambled with an exaggerated waddling movement like an oversized gecko, pushing into the dense growth and duff at the side of the wash, and then it froze, moving only in response to our movements. Unfortunately, in 1998 we had only a vintage video camera, so our still images are nothing to brag about.
Below, you can see that its head is distinctively that of a lizard, not a snake. The image at left shows the light-colored line running from the base of the head down along the ventral body, reflecting the lighter coloring of the under parts. The sharp fold along the line of the body makes it look almost rectangular in cross-section. Note also the brownish cross-bands, edged with black and contrasting with the lighter body color, most clearly visible on the right-hand picture. (Click on each image to enlarge it.)
The body of the Alligator Lizard is greatly elongated, as you can see below left. This one however had lost much of its tail (in fact we'd guess with a full tail it would have been almost a third longer -- the whole animal can reach over 12 inches; the tail tapers gradually to a very slender point in un-damaged animals) -- what you see is really the stub-end of the tail, this lizard having lost the longer ending. Below center and right, the front legs are very flimsy in appearance. In the center photo, they are barely distinguishable from the sticks the lizard is moving through. In the image at far right, the right arm is bent and visible. This image also shows the black and white spots on the upper jaw which are distinguishing markers for this lizard.
Below, the hindlegs of the lizard are considerably more robust. All of the images on this page together give some indication of the horizontally sinuous movements overall.
The Alligator lizard eats insects and scorpions. May it live long and prosper!