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Canada has five native species of lizards, and the introduced Common Wall lizard in British Columbia. Two species are found in the arid prairies, one skink lives in southern Ontario, and two species live in southern British Columbia.

greater short-horned lizard

Short-horned Lizard Phrynosoma hernandezi

These amazing lizards have a unique defence of squirting blood from their eyes. Thought to result from a rise in blood pressure when threatened, they can rupture a blood vessel in the corner of their eyes, and squirt it as far as two metres.

Colour: Gray, yellowish or reddish brown, with two rows of dark spots on back

Reproduction: 6-30 live young born July or August

Habitat : Arid grasslands and scrub desert of Alberta, Saskatchewan south to Mexico

  • Sometimes called Horned or Horny Toads
  • Females are bigger than males
  • Body is wide, squat and flattened
  • Back, sides and upper legs are covered with small spines, and the head has short, sharp spines projecting backwards
  • Can change colour to match rock or sand habitat; nearly invisible if motionless
  • Most abundant along south facing ravines
  • Active during midday, and burrow into soil at night
  • Rely on camouflage rather than speed for defense
  • Flatten and tilt their bodies to catch the slanting sun’s rays
  • Preferred diet is ants, but also eat insects, snails and small snakes
  • Threatened by loss of habitat and agricultural development

Northern Alligator Lizard Elgaria caerulea

The largest lizards in Canada, these animals prefer cooler temperatures and are able to survive at higher elevations. This adaptation probably accounts for their presence in Canada, although they only live in the extreme southern portion.

Colour: Olive, greenish or bluish black, with indistinct blotches or spots

Reproduction: 2-15 live young born after 7-10 weeks

Habitat : Cool moist forest, dry woodland from British Columbia south to California

  • Juveniles have a broad, light coloured stripe down the back
  • Tail is up to half the body length, and fragile
  • Courtship ritual involves neck biting
  • Active at different times of day in different habitats
  • Usually found under rotten logs, rocks or loose bark
  • Exceptionally wary, taking cover at the first sign of danger
  • Individuals with shorter tails have slower sprint speeds
  • Are carnivorous, eating insects, small mammals, reptiles
  • In the same family as legless lizards, or slowworms
  • Time of mating varies in different latitudes
  • Live in cool, moist forests up to 3,200 metres
  • Known lifespan up to eight years

Five-lined Skink Eumeces fasciatus

These are the common Blue-tailed Skinks of eastern North America, and the only lizard found in Ontario. They inhabit stable sand dunes and gardens in the Great Lakes region of Canada, and can be found on rocky slopes and under logs.

Colour: Black or brown with blue tail, and five light stripes down back

Reproduction: 10-18 eggs hatch after 1-2 months

Habitat : Moist woodlands and open forest of southern Ontario to the Gulf Coast

Juveniles have very bright stripes, and a bright blue tail that fades as they age

  • Terrestrial and climb only to escape predators or sun themselves on low branches
  • Males establish a territory in breeding season, and develop a bright orange chin and jaw during that period
  • Track their prey with a keen sense of smell; favourite foods are ants and spiders
  • Become active only when full sun reaches their territory
  • May overwinter in small groups, and can be found 2.4 metres underground
  • Female stays near the nest for a day or so after the eggs hatch, but no parental care is given to the young
  • Known lifespan up to six years
  • Threatened by loss of habitat and poaching for the pet trade

Prairie Skink Eumeces septentrionalis

The Canadian population of these skinks has been separated from the one in the USA, which extends in a narrow band down to the Gulf Coast. They are the only lizard in Manitoba, and are limited to an area along the Assiniboine River.

Colour: Brown with four light stripes down the back

Reproduction: 5-18 eggs hatch after 3-4 months

Habitat : Sandy riversides from Manitoba south to Texas

  • Breeding males have orange on the sides of the head
  • Young have a bright blue tail that fades as they age
  • Tail is fragile
  • May construct burrows with entrances that form shallow dugouts under rocks
  • Active dawn and dusk; shelter under rocks or in burrows during the heat of the day
  • Food is mashed with their strong jaws before swallowing
  • Inhabit sandy areas always close to water
  • Hibernate in groups
  • Limited to sandy areas, where loose soil allows them to burrow
  • Cannot reproduce until three years of age, and only lay one clutch per year
  • Illegal to keep them as pets in Manitoba, or collect them from the wild
  • Threatened by loss of habitat and urban development

Western Skink Eumeces skiltonianus

These skinks have been found on islands off the coast of California. It is unknown how they reached the islands, but may have rafted out on mats of floating debris. Reptiles around the world have established island populations this way.

Colour: Brown or black, with four light stripes down the body

Reproduction: 2-6 eggs hatch after 2-3 months

Habitat : Open woodlands, grasslands of southern British Columbia to California

  • Tail is longer than the body, and fragile
  • Juveniles have a bright blue tail
  • Breeding males have red lips and chin, and orange on the tip of the tail
  • Scales may come off if the animal is roughly handled
  • Extremely wary and agile
  • Little is known of their life history
  • Inhabit open bushy areas with abundant rocks
  • Eat insects and their larvae, spiders and worms
  • Active during the day but are rarely seen, spending most of their time under rocks or in rotten logs
  • Females guard the eggs until they hatch
  • Also found on Vancouver Island, BC
  • Known lifespan up to six years
  • Threatened by loss of habitat, urban development and a naturally small population in Canada

All above information taken from Canadian Skin & Scales written by Pat Bumstead

Greater Short-horned lizard photo courtesy of CARCNET

Introduced – Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis

Wall Lizards are endemic to continental Europe and western Asia.

In the early 1970s, a small group of Wall Lizards was released in west Saanich on Vancouver Island when a private zoo closed. Initially, the lizard population remained small, but once acclimated to our local climate and a breeding population established, the population grew enormously.

They now number in the thousands. For the moment, Wall Lizards are restricted to the area of west Saanich, Triangle Mountain in Metchosin, and Victoria on southern Vancouver Island.

Recent reports of individuals in the Gorge area of Victoria in 2007, and occasional reports – so far unsubstantiated – of individuals on some islands in the Strait of Georgia, suggest that the species is slowly dispersing. It probably is only a matter of time before Wall Lizards reach the British Columbia mainland or north-western United States, either intentionally or accidentally; southward dispersal is very likely on the mainland.