Alligator Lizard

Alligator Lizard, Northern California

Alligator Lizard, Northern California

When the spring temperatures start to warm, around April or May, we see the snakes and lizards coming out of hibernation.  But spring was early this year (drought), so it was a joy to come upon this alligator lizard while hiking in mid-March.


Alligator lizards are rare where I live, you might see one once in a summer, if at all.  Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata occupy a narrow range along the U.S. west coast.  They are medium-sized lizards usually at about 5-8 inches long.  Their diet primarily consists of crickets, millipedes, spiders, and other insects.   It is thought that their name “alligator” derives from the large head on an elongated body and their powerful jaws.


I used to be afraid of lizards.  But I realized when I moved to a rural property where lizards were leaping everywhere, that I had to change my attitude about lizards.  So I did.  And here is one of the many things that I now love about lizards:  many of them can dispense with their tail if necessary, including the alligator lizard.


If a snake or other predator catches the lizard, the lizard will detach its tail tip and escape.  The predator is left with only a few inches of tail, while the rest of the lizard has run to safety.  The abandoned tail tip flips and writhes for a few minutes, and then stops moving.  A new tail tip eventually grows back.  That’s got to be one of the coolest things a being can do.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

38 thoughts on “Alligator Lizard

  1. Lizards are a favorite here, as if you couldn’t tell from my gravatar. 😀

    Such a fascinating species! I’ve never even heard of an alligator lizard. We have no rare ones here but one of our regulars is the American alligator. We feel pretty special when one comes to our yard. They are very curious.

    • When the little creatures are going airborne for every two of your paces, all you can do is smile at their funny tricks. Thanks so much dear Nan for your kind comments. 😀 😀

  2. That whole detachable tail thing makes you go ew!!! But then it’s so cool! This guy looks like he could be a cousin to a rattler.

  3. Alligator lizard, that is so cool, I have never seen anything like it before! And how convenient to be able to detach your tail tip should you need to get away from a predator:) What a fun creature!

  4. We have lots of interesting lizards here in Atlanta, but they are tiny and there is no leaping. The Alligator lizard would definitely stand out around here, but would be a treat to see.

  5. Jet when I was a young child my brother would chase me with salamanders. They would drop their tails in fright. I was ready to drop mine too! I have never heard of an alligator lizard. Thank you for the introduction and your wonderful photos.

    • Ah, you lucky duck, you got to see this amazing phenomenon…though I imagine you didn’t feel so lucky at the time, poor thing. I think your older brother might have toughened you up for all the wild travel adventures you now enjoy? Always a treat to hear from you, Sue; thank you! 🙂

      • Yes my brother and I got into all sorts of adventures. We once dug a hole about eight feet deep. Approx 4feet square. We went until we hit water. It was all good fun until a cow fell in and had to be hauled out with a tractor. You can imagine how thrilled our parents were with that one. 🙂

  6. if I could only figure out how to keep the geckos out of my bedroom! I think they are pretty interesting too and eventually I realized that detachable tail also gave a meal to the predator, so it helps both. 🙂

    • Yes, the detachable tail is brilliant! Geckos in the bedroom, that’s a tough one because they are SO LOUD! Good luck with that Robert — thanks for your great comment. 🙂

    • It’s a very clever defense mechanism. I have never seen it in person, only on video; but I imagine it’s a bit odd to witness. Thanks very much, BJ, and have a great weekend with some of your lovely walks. 🙂

  7. Lovely Lizard with a fabulous skin and a heterologous head,which clearly explains its name,Alligator Lizard!I quite understand the amazing tail-story,you included,as I have noticed it with the Mediterranean house Geckos.I can also hear them chirping as if they want to communicate with one another.
    Wonder if Alligator Lizards “utter” any similar sounds.Sending spring hugs to you Jet Dear 🙂 xxx

    • Hi Doda! Of all the reptiles I have hung out with, none have ever been as vocal as the geckos. What a racket those little guys can make! Didn’t hear anything out of the Alligator lizard. I think this guy just loved hearing us ogle over him…ha. Always a special treat to hear from you dear Doda…thank you. 😀

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