Northern Alligator Lizard

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Lizards, Pacific Northwest

The Northern Alligator Lizard is quite common on southern Vancouver Island
The Northern Alligator Lizard, wonderful little creature. Photo by Robert Logan

The Northern Alligator Lizards can be found on southern Vancouver Island, the southern interior and in parts of Washington and Oregon. Alligator Lizards commonly are found in fir and hemlock forests, both on the coast and in the interior.  Look along rivers with lots of rock outcrops, lizards use these features for basking in the sun and they will find a a safe place to build their hibernation dens, they appear to not wander far from their dens.

It is a short legged lizard with a long body, it looks a lot like an actual miniature alligator. They can grow up to 20 cm long. Adults are a grayish color with a lighter colored belly. They will sometimes have dark marks or a wide bronze stripe running down along the back.

There is a fold of skin running along the sides that allows them to expand as they breathe.

These lizards are not seen very often and if caught they will force out a bad smelling liquid from their vent, bite you or as a last resort, they will drop their tail and run away.

They spent the winter hibernating and in the spring, in lieu of a mating display, the males will run down a female, grab her head in his mouth, throw her down and mate with her. This can go on for hours, its quite brutal but the female hardly ever gets hurt.

The Northern Alligator Lizard is quite common on southern Vancouver Island
Northern Alligator Lizard, Photo By Robert Logan

The young develop inside the mother and when ready, the female gives birth to 5 or 6 live babies. The female will not mate again for 2 to 3 years.

During the summer heat, they can be seen sunning on hot rocks, sometimes in large groups. This is when they are preyed upon by shrikes, hawks, owls and snakes.

Alligator lizards in turn, feed on various beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers, as well as spiders, snails and millipedes.

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