Northern Alligator Lizard

Northern Alligator Lizard

The Northern Alligator Lizard can be found on Vancouver Island, the southern interior, and in parts of Washington and Oregon. They 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 safe place to build their hibernation dens, they appear to not wander far from their dens.

They are a short-legged lizard with a long body and looks a lot like an actual miniature alligator. These lizards can grow up to 20 cm long. Adults are a grayish color with a lighter colored belly. Sometimes they will 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.

Northern Alligator Lizard, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Alligator Lizard, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Robert Logan

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, it’s quite brutal, but the female hardly ever gets hurt.

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.

Northern Alligator Lizard, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Alligator Lizard, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

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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