• American Camp parade ground looking west

    San Juan Island

    National Historical Park Washington

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Northern Alligator Lizard

Julia Vouri

Because the first line of defense of the Northwestern Alligator Lizard is to flee and hide, you may not get a good look at one unless you're sneaky. But beware: they are ever at the ready and will bite.

You'll most likely to see them in spring or summer in many areas, from the prairie and grasslands to the saltwater coves, bays, and beaches. They also frequent the forested areas of American and English Camps because they can tolerate more cold than most lizards. Look for them hiding under rocks or logs next to open areas that allow them to bask in the sun. In winter, they hibernate in underground dens.

Their bodies are long, their legs short, and their head triangular. Unlike many other lizards, they don't scurry ahead in a beeline with bellies off the ground. Instead, they wind their way in a more snake-like manner. At 4 to 10 inches long, they are fairly smooth and usually gray or brown with a paler belly. You can identify the juveniles by their copper-colored dorsal stripe.

Their tails are long—more than half the length of the body. That is, unless the tail has been jetissoned? to distract a potential predator and is in the process of regeneration.

Some have a row of dark spots down their backs, others a broad tan or brown stripe. Look closely if you can: one thing that distinguishes them from other lizards is a fold of skin running down each side of the body, which allows the body to expand for breathing, eating, or, in females, eggs.

They eat primarily insects such as grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and caterpillars as well as other small invertebrates.

Park status: Probably present. Native.

Did You Know?

Did You Know?

First Lieutenant James W. Forsyth was Capt. George E. Pickett's second in command on San Juan Island. Forsyth would become a brigadier general in the Civil War and go on to command the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.