Well, you native Texans reading this no doubt realize that I’d confused two distinct types of lizards, the alligator lizard (Gerrhonotus infernalis) and the smaller Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus), pictured here. Now that I’ve done a little research, I know the difference, though if you’d asked me before, I’d have said the Texas spiny lizard looks a little gatorish.
More often, however, the arboreal Texas spiny lizard is mistaken for the ground-dwelling Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), commonly known as the horny toad. The horny toad is iconic in Texas and is, in fact, the state reptile. (Does every state have a state reptile? I have no idea.) Once common throughout Texas, the horny toad is now rare in the eastern and central parts of the state and is listed as threatened elsewhere because of habitat loss, the illegal pet trade, pesticide use, and the spread of nonnative fire ants.
The Texas spiny lizard suffers none of these problems, living as it does in the trees and perhaps being a little less distinctive and “collectible.” It grows to 8 to 11 inches long and dines on beetles and other insects. Males have blue markings along each side of the belly. Compared to the approachable, smooth-skinned, green anole, which is commonly found in Austin gardens, the Texas spiny lizard looks fierce, spiny, and, well, coldly reptilian. It’s a total chicken, however, fleeing at human approach into the trees.
I spotted the Texas spiny lizard pictured above on a live oak in the front garden and was struck anew by how well its coloring matches the tree trunk. This one froze as I neared, then skittered around the other side of the trunk. I managed one quick photo before it disappeared into the canopy. I may not see them often, but I like knowing they’re up there, eating bugs and sunning themselves under the Death Star.
All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.