The elusive alligator lizard

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Texas alligator lizard climbing an alligator juniper in Big Bend National Park.  Photo By Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello

Not everyone living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert is familiar with one of the coolest and least known lizards in our eco-region, the Texas alligator lizard.   More people in West Texas have seen alligator junipers than they have alligator lizards.  The lizards are very elusive and live in higher elevation habitats like the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.  You can see a list of 2019 observations in alligator lizard country on iNaturalist.org

The iNaturalist map below will give you some idea of just where people are seeing this lizard today.

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When I was a park ranger in Big Bend I hiked the trails in the Chisos Mountains several times a week.  I saw these lizards very infrequently and only on sunny days when they were hunting in the leaf litter and I could hear movement along the trail.

As far as I know the alligator lizard is the only lizard in the United States with a prehensile tail.  Some say it is relict species surviving on desert islands like the Chisos from a period before the last ice age when most of the region was covered by a temperate deciduous forests.   Imagine a time when the desert was covered by forests with alligator lizards in the trees.