By: Wendy Langhans
I got my first-up-close-and-personal look at a lizard many years ago, when my cat left a "present" for me on my bed pillow. My reaction? Let's just say I wasn't overjoyed. But over the years, as I've observed lizards in the field and learned more about them, my appreciation for them has grown.
For example, did you know that lizards serve a useful purpose in your garden, eating insects that might otherwise destroy your prized heirloom tomatoes? Or that the blood of the Western Fence Lizard kills the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, one reason why Lyme Disease is not as prevalent on the west coast? And watching two male lizards displaying push-ups in a turf battle is almost as dramatic as watching professional wrestling on TV.
So I was delighted earlier this week to receive an e-mail from one of our listeners. He wanted to know what kinds of lizards live here and how to get more into his yard? What great questions! This week we'll take a closer look at his first question, "what kinds of lizards live here"?
Western Fence Lizard.
There are many places you can go for information about lizards. One good online source is the US Geological Survey. Their website: A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Coastal Southern California , provides pictures and information about our 24 local species. Another useful on-line source is CaliforniaHerps.com , where you can find range maps as well as species information. If you want a field guide you can slip into your backpack, Peterson's Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians is a good choice. And I'm sure it won't be long before someone develops an iPhone app that you can take into the field too.
Of our 24 local species, which ones are you most likely to observe in our area? Here are my choices for the top four (along with observations from the San Diego Natural History Museum).
Hiding in plain sight.
1. Western Fence Lizard . "It's usually found on or near the ground, in rock and wood piles, tree trunks, and the lower branches of shrubs." It is found everywhere except deserts and above 6,000 feet.
2. Southern Alligator Lizard . It "is often seen in yards and gardens, sometimes out in the open or in the garage, but usually under piles of wood, rock, or other debris. Don't be surprised to find them on your porch or patio."
3. Side-blotched Lizard . "Typically,...can be seen on rocks, the lower branches of shrubs, in debris near the ground, usually with cover nearby. It frequents highly disturbed areas", which were recently burned or developed and on very steep, rocky slopes.
4. Sagebrush Lizard . "It is commonly found above 5,000 feet in elevation...These lizards enjoy open ground, with clear sunlight and dappled low vegetation."
I'm sure some of the old-time Santa Clarita Valley residents will wonder why I didn't mention the Coast Horned Lizard , otherwise know as "Horny Toads". That's because this species is no longer common; it is considered a Federal Special Concern species (FSC) and a California Special Concern species (DFG-CSC). Habitat destruction and the Argentine ant invasion has pushed this species into isolated pockets of undisturbed habitat. All the more reason to preserve the habitat we have left.
(Next week's story: How can I get more lizards into my yard? For more lizard adventures, click here )
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, July 25th, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM. Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon .
Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout. For more information contact Steve Ioerger  at 661-291-1565.
Saturday, July 18, 8:00-10:00 AM. Bird Hike in Towsley Canyon. Wear close-toed shoes and bring water. An easy walk, suitable for families. For map and directions go here .
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Saturday, July 25, 9:00-Noon. Squirrels to Snakes: Discovering Southern California's Wildlife. Ranch house at William S. Hart Museum. Explore our local plants and animals through a live animal presentation, crafts and activities, and guided hike! Activities geared for 3-10 year olds, but all ages welcome. Adults must accompany child. For more information, call 661-254-4584 or visit www.hartmuseum.org .
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.