Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)
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.
Earless Lizards are part of the Family Iguanidae, and these species (whose ranges are limited to various parts of the U.S. and Mexico) are small, ground-dwelling lizards with no ear openings. Both the Lesser (Holbrookia maculata) and the Greater are found in our area, but the Lesser (primarily a Plains-dweller, found as far north as South Dakota) lacks black bars on the underside of its tail. The Greater Earless Lizard (not found north of north-central Arizona and New Mexico) is slim-legged, and its long, flat tail has black crossbars on the underside). The corpse in the photos below (the most complete we have thus far of this lizard) is probably a female, since the belly lacks both blue-ish color and dark crescent-shaped markings (found on the male and located just in front of the hind legs, behind the mid-point of the body. (Click on each of these images to enlarge it.)
This lizard is a denizen of our own Arizona Uplands habitats, therein favoring "sandy, gravelly soil of flats, washes, and intermittent stream bottoms where plants are sparse and there are open areas for running." (Stebbins, cited above, p. 117) This is the habitat where we found the corpse above-- a silt flat of Lower Hot Springs Canyon -- and it is also a place whose general ground coloration matches the dorsal colors of this animal. When we picked the specimen up, a worm feeding on its innards proceeded to crawl out toward us (note the center of the dorsal view at left), so we quickly returned the body to its previous location so the larva could continue its feast.
The banner photo at the top of this page is probably a female Greater Earless, judging by its coloration, which is characteristic of females during the breeding season. This one was photographed in early August 2005.
Here, at left, is a better view of the breeding female's back coloration. (Click on this image for a closeup of the mid-back.)
We think that this one, below, is also a Greater Earless. This, too, was seen in an open, sandy wash tributary to Hot Springs Canyon in August 2004, and it was poised to leap and run at any further movement. This zoomed image was as close as we could get.
Note in the Stebbins quote above the reference to running, in the context of the remarkable shape of the hind feet of this lizard (note especially the enlargement of the corpse photo above right. We often see lizards fitting this description along our sandy washes, and they can definitely run. Behler and King (cited above) characterize the Greater Earless as "An exceptionally active lizard, constantly dashing from rock to rock as it surveys its territory and hunts insect prey. It runs with its tail curved over its back, displaying the characteristic black bands." (p. 503) The Iguanids are also highly visual creatures.
These lizards are similar to another lizard of our area, the Zebra-tailed Lizard, with which it should be compared. We think that the one shown just above cannot be a Zebra-tailed, because it lacks black bars on the dorsal portion of the tail. (We think, but can't see, that it has them on the ventral side.) Below, a young animal accidentally unearthed in May 2005, so it was still cold and had very limited energy, showing the characteristics just outlined (bars ventral, not dorsal), and also the characteristic belly colorations (Click on the image for detail closeup):
As we photograph more of these very fast-running, smallish lizards, we become more familiar with them. Typically they run like a streak, with tails arched upward in a forward curve. Below are images of the same lizard taken with our maximum 7X zoom in July 2005, and in these we have confidence we're looking at a Greater Earless male: (Click on each image to enlarge it.)
These pictures were taken at sufficient distance that we could not see any of the critical diagnostic features with our naked eyes -- the tail patterns and the lower-belly location of the bright coloring. We're getting the impression that most of our small lizards of this type in our Cascabel area washes are Greater Earless. (Again, note the remarkable length of the toes of the hind feet in the left-hand photo.)
The rear legs and feet show their climbing facility below, in an animal poised on cliffside:
We think this image below is our best of this lizard's feet patterns. We encountered this suffering creature on April 17, 2009 in the bottom of a cooler that had come open where it had entered and been caught there probably for about a month:
As you can see from its wrinkled abdomen, it was probably quite hungry, and it scrambled off at high speed when we turned the cooler back on its side. (Click on the image for a closeup of its arm and legs.)
Below, we photographed this female in July 2006 near the Lower Hot Springs Canyon Windmill. Note the light coloring of the forefingers.
This lizard, below, we saw climbing a north-facing cliff along a lower Soza Mesa wash in October 2006. We were unable to see belly colors, but the overall back patterning is especially good. (Click on each image to enlarge it.)