While the Tehachapi Mountains do not have as many reptiles species as the warmer Mojave Desert to the east of us, there is an assembly of them that can be seen regularly — especially a handful of different lizards.
There are currently 67 recognized species or subspecies of lizards in California. Of these, at least 11 have been seen in our mountains. The Tehachapis are an area of considerable taxonomic mixing of both plants and animals, where different species from the Great Basin Desert, Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley can often be found.
The most common lizard in our area is undoubtedly the Western Fence Lizard, most commonly known as "Bluebellies" because of the blue patches on the bellies and throats of the males. These ubiquitous lizards are great climbers, and are found on boulder piles, trees, fences, rock walls, the sides of buildings, etc. They are the main lizard of our oak woodlands, and will often appear very dark as they seek to absorb sunlight.
There are two different subspecies that can be found in the Tehachapi Mountains: the Great Basin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes) and the San Joaquin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis biseriatus).
The next most common lizard is the Western Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana elegans), a smaller reptile that seldom climbs, and is most frequently found in more open, sandy areas. These little lizards like to live along dirt roads or in rocky canyons and washes.
After these two most numerous reptiles, the other lizards you may encounter depends upon where you live. The Woodland Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata webbii), formerly known as the San Diego Alligator Lizard, is quite widespread. As the common name suggests, these big-headed lizards are typically found in areas with mixed vegetation.
Alligator Lizards are somewhat primitive-looking, and often brightly-colored with red or orangish coloration on their backs. They can move very quickly despite their relatively small legs.
The fastest of our mountain lizards, at least in short bursts of speed, has to be Great Basin Whiptails (Aspidoscelis tigris tigris). These large, attractive lizards have powerful hind legs and look a bit like small monitor lizards or miniature Komodo dragons as they tromp around in search of the small invertebrates that they eat.
Whiptails have long tails and they travel with deliberate movements, stopping frequently to examine their immediate surroundings, turning their heads from side to side as they flick out their tongues.
As is typical, another species, the California Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris munda) ascends into the Tehachapi Mountains from the San Joaquin Valley.
Another lizard species often encountered is the Western Red-tailed Skink (Plestiodon gilberti rubricaudatus), which is one of four different subspecies of Gilbert's Skink found in California.
These smooth-skinned lizards are snake-like both in their appearance and their sinuous side-to-side movements, since their bodies are muscular but their legs are very small. They spend most of their time concealed in leaf litter or underneath decaying wood or other hiding places.
I've included some lizard photos taken by my friend Toshimi Kristof, a frequent contributor to the Tehachapi News who lives in Bear Valley Springs with her husband, Les. They maintain a water feature and encourage wildlife to visit their home, and so Toshimi is able to capture some great photos of local fauna, as well as plants and other natural phenomena.
There are other lizard species, including the Southern Desert Horned Lizard, that are found locally during the warmer months. Together these different reptiles contribute to the diversity of life in the Tehachapi Mountains.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.