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Thursday February 2, 2012
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WESTERN FENCE LIZARD – AKA “BLUE-BELLY”

by Donna Walker

MTRP Trail Guide and Hearts Pest Management Customer Service

Hearts Pest Management, the leader in organic pest control for Southern California, provides a conscious, cycle of life pest management approach while maintaining an interest in the preservation of our natural resources and wildlife.   The Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), or “Blue-belly, a constant companion to gardeners, manages the pest population in its own way by clearing a garden of beetles, flies, ants, caterpillars, spiders, and crickets.

western fence lizard on stone

western fence lizard showing off for the female

The Western Fence Lizard Basks in the Sun

The Western Fence Lizard is often seen scurrying through vegetation to higher elevations where it will bask in the sun on a rock, (or a fence), regulating its body temperature and keeping an eye out for unsuspecting insects.  Common inCalifornia, the Western Fence Lizard is considered a spiny lizard with overlapping scales, lighter or darker in color depending upon their environment, and about 6 inches in length, including the tail.  Because the Western Fence Lizard likes to sun itself out in the open, it is often more prey than predator. 

Blue Belly Lizard Females Say All’s fair in Love and War

The male Western Fence Lizard has yellow on its thighs and a blue belly, hence the name “Blue-belly.”  The female also has blue on her belly but not on the throat and the color isn´t as vibrant as the male´s iridescent aqua-marine coloring.  The males are territorial and will do “push-ups” when another male is near, or when a female is present, showing off their blue belly.  Another interesting trait of the blue-belly is their ability to “throw” their tail to get away from an enemy.  Eventually, the tail will grow back; however, the female Western Fence Lizard is very picky about courtship and won´t even look at a male who has lost its tail.  Mating is in the spring at which time the female lays a clutch of up to 10 eggs that hatch during mid-summer.

wertern fence lizard drawing

wertern fence lizard drawing

Western Fence Lizard’s Winter Rest

If you wonder why you don´t see too many of these natural pest control agents during the winter months, it´s because the Western Fence Lizard becomes dormant, a hibernation-like state when its metabolism slows down and it becomes inactive, burrowing under rocks, layers of leaves or tree trunks.  

western fence lizard eating a Jerusalem Cricket

Western Fence Lizard eating a Jerusalem Cricket

Beneficial Lizard Protects Us from Disease

The Western Fence Lizard isn´t just for entertainment and keeping garden pests at bay; studies within the last several years indicate in areas likeSouthern California, with a higher population of the Western Fence Lizard, there are less incidents of lyme disease.  Western black-legged ticks carry the bacteria for lyme disease which can be transferred to humans but when a tick feeds off the blood of the Western Fence Lizard, the protein in the blood of the lizard kills the bacteria and the tick is no longer a threat to humans.

Western Black Legged Tick on leaf

Western Black Legged Tick on leaf

Western Fence Lizard - Human Benefactor

Western Fence Lizard - Human Benefactor

Lizards in the Home

The Western Fence Lizard is a welcome companion in the garden and in the yard but if you find one inside your home, there are a couple ways of rescuing the blue-belly and releasing it outdoors.  The first method is called “noosing” in which you make a small loop with a long piece of string or dental floss and slip it over the lizard´s head, then tighten gently before it has a chance to race through the noose (this takes a little skill).  Another method is to place a small box over the blue-belly and slowly slip a piece of cardboard underneath the box to close the opening, then lift both box and cardboard and take them outside.  To keep lizards and other small critters from coming into the home, especially under doors, close off any caps ¼ in or larger.

western fence lizard

western fence lizard

Western Fence Lizard References:

University of California, Davis Integrated Pest Management                                       

California Academy of Sciences/

San Diego Natural History Museum 

Wikipedia on the Western Fence Lizard

California Herps – A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in California 

Barbara Bentler – Artist and Author

University of California, Davis – Entomology Department

Schoenherr, Allan A. 1991. A Natural History of California.Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress.

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