Blunt-Nosed Leopard Lizard

Description and biology

As its name indicates, this lizard has a blunt nose and a leopard–like pattern on its body. To help regulate the lizard’s body temperature, its color and pattern change throughout the day: in the morning, when it is cool, dark spots and light sand–colored bars appear on the surface of the lizard’s body; as the temperature rises during the day, the pattern fades to a lighter shade.

This lizard species also changes color during mating season. During courtship, the sides of males turn salmon or light pink. After having mated, females develop rusty–orange to red blotches on their sides that remain until they lay their eggs.

An average blunt–nosed leopard lizard has a body length of 3.5 to 5 inches (8.9 to 12.7 centimeters). Its tail can often reach a length of 8 inches (20 centimeters). If a predator such as a squirrel, skunk, shrike (type of bird), or snake catches the lizard by its tail, the lizard can shed the tail and grow a new one.

The blunt–nosed leopard lizard feeds on grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, bees, and occasionally other young lizards. This species may also eat its own young.

The blunt–nosed leopard lizard spends its winter hibernating in a deep burrow made by a rodent or other small animal. It emerges from hibernation around the beginning of April, and is then active only during the coolest hours of the day.

Mating season takes place during May and June. A single male may defend a territory that includes several females. After mating, a female enters a burrow in June or July to lay a clutch of two or three eggs. The eggs hatch in August.

Habitat and current distribution

Sometimes called the San Joaquin leopard lizard, this lizard species is found only in parts of the San Joaquin Valley and adjacent foothills in south–central California. Biologists (people who study living organisms) do not know the total number of blunt–nosed leopard lizards in existence.

The lizard species inhabits grassland, scrub (stunted trees and shrubs), and plains areas. It cannot survive in cultivated areas (farmland and urban areas).

History and conservation measures

The blunt–nosed leopard lizard once ranged throughout the San Joaquin Valley. For the most part, this species has diminished in number because much of its habitat has been converted into farmland and urban areas.

By the 1950s, 50 percent of the lizard’s original habitat had been lost. By the early 1980s, only about 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) of suitable habitat remained.

Since the lizard cannot survive in cultivated areas, the only way to save it is to protect its remaining habitat. Conservationists are in the process of obtaining land throughout the blunt–nosed leopard lizard’s range to set aside as reserves for the animal.