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Sceloporus arenicolus

(Dunes Sagebrush Lizard)


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Threat status

Interesting Facts

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Common Names

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Common Names in English:

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, Sand Dune Lizard


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Physical Description

Species Sceloporus arenicolus

Sand Dune Lizards are roughscaled, grayish tan lizards, 4-7 inches from the blunt nose to the tip of the tail. They have rounded heads , bright yellow eyes, and pale yellow under-lips beneath their wide mouths . Along the sides of the back, faint brownish speckles extend in parallel lines from the ear openings to the base of the tail. The back feet are large with long, splayed, claw-tipped toes, well suited for running and digging in sand.[1]

In breeding season , females develop an alluring yellowishorange tinge to their undersides. Males have blue patches on their bellies. Lizards can flash these colors when they do push-up displays for the benefit of conspecifics , but seen from a hawk's eye view, the animals are well camouflaged in the sand.[1]

The scientific name, Sceloporus arenicolus, describes them further. Scelo, from the Greek skelos, means leg . Porus refers to the lines of pores on the undersurface of their back legs. These are found on many lizards of the iguanid family ; they contain a waxy material that leaves a scent trail as the lizards travel. Arenicolus means “inhabitant of sandy areas”.[1]


Sand Dune Lizards are habitat specialists restricted to “sand-shinnery” areas. This refers to a unique landscape of bowl-shaped blowouts interspersed with mounded dunes topped by a very unusual shrub , Quercus havardii, the Shinnery Oak. These dwarf trees are just a few feet tall but clones can be hundreds or thousands of years old. The roots of the Shinnery Oak shrubs provide structure for the Sand Dune Lizards' burrows, and harbor many of the insects in the lizards’ diet .(Ref. 109946)

Biome: Terrestrial [2].

Ecology: This lizard occurs in the vicinity of active and semi-stabilized sand dunes; vegetation consists of scattered stands of Quercus havardii and Artemisia filifolia; it tends to occur in greatest abundance in areas where the lizard Uta stansburiana is scarce; it seeks shelter in burrows, under leaf litter , or by burrowing into loose sand (Degenhardt et al. 1996, Bartlett and Bartlett 1999, Stebbins 2003). The lizard is absent where blow-outs, topographic relief , or shin-oak are lacking[2].

List of Habitats :


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Opportunistic insectivores , Sand Dune Lizards feed on ants , small beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. Because they are diurnal (day active ), wary, and secretive, they generally feed within or immediately adjacent to patches of vegetation.[1]


Breeding begins in late April. Males seek out females for mating and court by a species-specific pattern of bobbing push-ups. Female Sand Dune Lizards produce one to two clutches per year; smaller, one-year old females will typically lay 3-4 eggs while twoyear- olds produce 5- 6 eggs.[1] The eggs are laid 4-6 inches under the sand and hatch a month later. Not just any sand will do for a nest ; sand grains must be relatively coarse , about 0.2mm in diameter. Sand Dune Lizards avoid areas of ‘powdered sugar’ sand for egg laying, most likely because the small particle size of this sand prevents adequate gas exchange for the developing eggs. Hatchlings emerge from their eggs from July through late September, depending on whether they're from a first or second clutch . Once they leave the egg, young Sand Dune Lizards are totally on their own. Many hatchlings are eaten by coyotes, snakes , roadrunners, and sometimes by other lizards. In late October to early November, adults and youngsters enter hibernation under the sand.[1]


Lizards spend their days hunting or basking . They use the behavioral mechanisms of microhabitat choice , posture, and shuttling between sun and shade to keep their body temperature up to an 90 degrees or so (cold-blooded indeed!). When danger lurks, or when the air temperature is too hot, they bury themselves in the sand or run under the low, tangled oaks.[1]


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Sceloporus arenicolus — Collins 1991 • Sceloporus arenicolus — Crother 2000 • Sceloporus graciosus arenicolous Degenhardt and Jones 1972 • Sceloporus graciosus arenicolous [sic] Degenhardt and Jones 1972 • Sceloporus graciosus arenicolus Stebbins 1985: 134 • Sceloporus graciosus arenicolus — Conant and Collins 1991: 109 • Sceloporus graciosus arenicolus — Smith and Smith 1976


Name Status: Accepted Name .

Comment: Holotype: MSWB 23621, collected by K . L. Jones, 27 April 1968. Named after the Latin noun arena, "sand ," and adjective -cola, "dweller," refer to the habitat where the species lives.

This species formerly was regarded as a subspecies of Sceloporus graciosus (see Degenhardt et al. 1996). The specific name was misspelled "arenicolous" in the original description . [2].

Similar Species

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Members of the genus Sceloporus

ZipcodeZoo has pages for 122 species and subspecies in this genus. Here are just 100 of them:

S. acanthinus (Bocourt's Spiny Lizard) · S. adleri (Adler's Spiny Lizard) · S. aeneus (Southern Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. anahuacus (Anahuacan Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. angustus (Santa Cruz Island Sator) · S. arenicolus (Dunes Sagebrush Lizard) · S. aureolus (Southern Crevice Spiny Lizard) · S. bicanthalis (Trans Volcanic Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. bulleri (Buller's Spiny Lizard) · S. caeruleus (Blue Ornate Spiny Lizard) · S. carinatus (Keeled Spiny Lizard) · S. cautus (Shy Spiny Lizard) · S. chaneyi (Chaney's Spiny Lizard) · S. chrysostictus (Yellow-Spotted Spiny Lizard) · S. clarkii (Clark's Spiny Lizard) · S. clarkii vallaris (Clark's Spiny Lizard) · S. consobrinus (Eastern Fence Lizard) · S. couchii (Couch's Spiny Lizard) · S. cozumelae (Cozumel Spiny Lizard) · S. cryptus (Sierra Juarez Spiny Lizard) · S. cyanogenys (West Gulf Rough-Scaled Lizard) · S. dugesii (Duges' Spiny Lizard) · S. edwardtaylori (Taylor's Spiny Lizard) · S. exsul (Queretaran Desert Lizard) · S. formosus (Mexican Emerald Spiny Lizard) · S. gadovae (Gadow's Spiny Lizard) · S. gadoviae (Gadow's Spiny Lizard) · S. goldmani (Goldman's Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. graciosus (Common Sagebrush Lizard) · S. graciosus graciosus (Northern Sagebrush Lizard) · S. grammicus (Graphic Spiny Lizard) · S. grammicus microlepidotus (Mesquite Lizard) · S. heterolepis (Dorsalkeel Spiny Lizard) · S. heterolepis heterolepis (Dorsalkeel Spiny Lizard) · S. horridus (Horrible Spiny Lizard) · S. hunsakeri (Hunsaker's Spiny Lizard) · S. insignis (Michoacán Blackcollar Lizard) · S. jalapae (Jalapa Spiny Lizard) · S. jarrovi (Mountain Spiny Lizard) · S. jarrovii (Yarrow's Spiny Lizard) · S. jarrovii cyanostictus (Blue-Spotted Spiny Lizard) · S. jarrovii jarrovii (Mountain Spiny Lizard) · S. jarrovii sugillatus (Zempoala Bar-Bellied Lizard) · S. licki (Cape Arboreal Spiny Lizard) · S. lineatulus (Santa Catalina Spiny Lizard) · S. lunae (Luna's Spiny Lizard) · S. lundelli (Lundell's Spiny Lizard) · S. macdougalli (Macdougall's Spiny Lizard) · S. maculosus (Spotted Spiny Lizard) · S. magister (Desert Spiny Lizard) · S. magister bimaculosus (Desert Spiny Lizard) · S. magister cephaloflavus (Desert Spiny Lizard) · S. magister transversus (Barred Spiny Lizard) · S. magister uniformis (Desert Spiny Lizard) · S. malachiticus (Green Spiny Lizard) · S. megalepidurus (Largescale Spiny Lizard) · S. megalepidurus megalepidurus (Largescale Spiny Lizard) · S. melanorhinus (Pastel Tree Lizard) · S. merriami (Canyon Lizard) · S. merriami annulatus (Big Bend Canyon Lizard) · S. merriami longipunctatus (Canyon Lizard) · S. monserratensis (Monserrat Island Spiny Lizard) · S. mucronatus (Cleft Lizard) · S. nelsoni (Nelson's Spiny Lizard) · S. nelsoni nelsoni (Nelson's Spiny Lizard) · S. occidentalis (Western Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis becki (Island Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis biseriatus (San Joaquin Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis bocourtii (Coast Range Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis longipes (Great Basin Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis occidentalis (Northwestern Fence Lizard) · S. occidentalis taylori (Sierra Fence Lizard) · S. ochoterenae (Queretaran Spiny Lizard) · S. olivaceus (Texas Spiny Lizard) · S. omiltemanus (Southern Cleft Lizard) · S. orcutti (Granite Spiny Lizard) · S. orcutti orcutii (Granite Spiny Lizard) · S. ornatus (Ornate Spiny Lizard) · S. palaciosi (Palacios' Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. parvus (Bluebelly Lizard) · S. poinsettii (Crevice Spiny Lizard) · S. poinsettii macrolepis (Western Crevice Lizard) · S. poinsettii poinsettii (Northern Crevice Spiny Lizard) · S. poinsettii polylepis (Southern Crevice Lizard) · S. prezygus (Chiapan Rough Scaled Lizard) · S. pyrocephalus (Boulder Spiny Lizard) · S. rufidorsum (Mexican Desert Spiny Lizard) · S. salvini (Salvin's Spiny Lizard) · S. scalaris (Bunch Grass Lizard) · S. slevini (Bunch Grass Lizard) · S. serrifer (Blue Spiny Lizard) · S. serrifer cyanogenys (Blue Spiny Lizard) · S. siniferus (Longtail Spiny Lizard) · S. slevini (Slevin's Bunchgrass Lizard) · S. smaragdinus (Bocourt) · S. smithi (Smith's Rosebelly Lizard) · S. spinosus (Blue-Spotted Spiny Lizard) · S. squamosus (Mexican Spiny Lizard) · S. stejnegeri (Stejneger's Blackcollar Spiny Lizard) · S. subniger (Tolucan Bunchgrass Lizard)

More Info

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Further Reading

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Data Sources

Accessed through GBIF Data Portal February 27, 2008:



  1. New Mexico Wildlife. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Version of April 24, 2009. [back]
  2. Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Sceloporus arenicolus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <>. Downloaded on 04 February 2012. [back]
Last Revised: 2015-01-30