In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2008
Regional Report

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My curious collared lizard seems to be spying on me.

Lizards in the Landscape

Sometimes when I'm at my desk working, I get the feeling that I'm being watched. Usually, it's not paranoia; I am indeed being observed, by a collared lizard who makes his home in my front yard. He periodically clambers up the window screen and peers through the blinds. I like to imagine he's as curious about me as I am about him, although it's more likely he's on the prowl for insects. I allow spider webs to hang in the eaves above that window so I can watch the hummingbirds grab bits of sticky webbing for their nests. So, it's probably just a good place for a lizard to wait patiently for a snack.

He also likes to sit on a boulder where I can watch him from the kitchen. A few days ago, visitors were delighted to see him performing muscular push-ups on his rock. There's something comical about these routines, especially if lizards are new to you, although the lizard probably takes it pretty seriously. According to herpetologists, these calisthenics are about establishing territory or courting females with a vigorous display.

Collared lizards (genus Crotaphytus) are sturdy with big heads, strong jaws, and obvious, dark, collar markings around the neck. Some species show bright colors, especially during the breeding season. They are capable of running on their hind legs, giving the appearance of a tiny dinosaur.

Welcoming Lizards to Your Yard
There are over 40 lizard species in the Southwest. I live in the midst of urban development, and yet my small yard supports multiple lizards. They are fascinating creatures. They seem to have their own territories and routines, and at certain times of the day, I often recognize them in specific areas.

The most important step you can take to attract lizards to your yard is to eliminate pesticides. Lizards consume all sorts of insects, including crickets and cockroaches, and will provide pest control for you. Add boulders for basking in the sun. Create hiding places with a small rock pile in an out-of-the-way corner, or stack rocks (without grout) for a raised bed. Leave a layer of organic mulch, such as twigs, seedpods, and leaf litter, on the ground for camouflage and foraging.


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