a small brown lizard with small spikes around the sides of its head and along its body
Lizards found in the park such as the short-horned lizard are small in size.

NPS Photo / Laura Thomas

When thinking of desert animals, reptiles often come to mind first. 13 species of reptiles (seven snakes and six lizards) are found at Craters of the Moon. Although often not appreciated and sometimes feared, they play an important role in the high desert ecosystem. Both lizards and snakes help control insect and rodent populations and also serve as potential meals for birds, mammals, and larger reptiles.

All reptiles are cold-blooded, or “ectothermic,” regulating body temperature through its environment rather than internally. A reptile’s metabolic rate is very low, but so are its energy needs. Since keeping warm in the desert does not require much work, reptiles are well adapted to this environment. The little energy they do generate can be used for reproduction and finding food instead of heating and cooling. Of course, there are limitations to this type of adaptation. Since they cannot pant or sweat, reptiles are not able to endure extremely high temperatures without shade. They also cannot endure freezing temperatures. When it is cold, they hibernate or become inactive.

Summer visitors to Craters of the Moon can see lizards from many of the trails. Reptiles are the most active once the sun heats the black basalt and increases their body temperatures. They are usually visible sunbathing on rocks or chasing insects with their lightning-quick reflexes. Lizards found here include two species of horned lizard, the sagebrush lizard, and the Western skink.

Most of the snakes found at Craters of the Moon are harmless and nocturnal. The Western or prairie rattlesnake is rarely seen and mostly active at night. Although venomous, these snakes are not aggressive and usually avoid confrontation if given plenty of space. Gopher snakes are the most common snake seen in the park and are often mistaken for rattlesnakes due to their similar appearance. Both young and adult gopher snakes will mimic rattlesnake behavior when threatened. This even includes vibrating their tails in dead leaves to create a rattling noise.

As with all park wildlife, remember to respect an animal's space and appreciate them from a distance. Do not handle wildlife.


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Last updated: November 3, 2023

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
1266 Craters Loop Road
P.O. Box 29

Arco, ID 83213


208 527-1300

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