Little lizards are helpful yard residents

You may not even notice them as they sit quietly in the sun, but they are always watching you. Only if you approach too closely will they dart away into the leaf litter and undergrowth of nearby shrubs. Fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) are one of the most commonly seen lizards in Southern California, and one of the few to inhabit coastal areas. This small lizard only grows to about 10 centimeters (4 inches) long, and is active most of the year where it is warm.

Brown in color, with many variations and patterns, these lizards look black when they first emerge in the morning before they are heated by the sun, then they take on their regular coloration. Males can have blue bellies and yellow on the back of their thighs. Females are more brown in general coloration.

The males establish territories they defend fiercely against any intruders. They like to sit up high to get a good vantage point over their territory. Mating happens during spring and females then lay clutches of eggs (3-17) in the soil; hatchlings emerge on their own from July to September.

These little reptiles make a living eating small insects like crickets and spiders, and because of a protein in their blood that kills the bacteria in deer ticks that carry Lyme disease, they are possibly responsible for keeping the incidence of this disease lower in the Southeastern U.S. compared to the Northeastern states.

If you happen to have these little creatures living near your house, you can be sure that they are helping to keep pests at bay.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached by e-mail: NaturalLaJolla@gmail.com

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