Western fence lizard, Lockwood Park. May 30, 2016.

Western fence lizard, Lockwood Park. May 2016. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.

Western fence lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis 
  • Lizard with spiny scales.
  • Back is black, gray, or brown and blotchy.
  • Males have blue on throat and sides of belly; females do not.
Record Observations
Species Description

Western fence lizards are often seen on fence posts, rocks logs and tree trunks, doing “pushups” to advertise and defend their territories (Basey 2004). They feed on insects and spiders (Stebbins 1966).

A 1940 study on reptiles and amphibians of Nevada reported that Western fence lizards were abundant across most of the state. They were observed mating in June, laying eggs in July, and young had hatched by August.  In Washoe County, specimens were collected from The Willows, Pyramid Lake, Verdi, Reno, and various other locations (Linsdale 1940).  

A 1992 study on Truckee River amphibians and reptiles found Western fence lizards living in the area between Floriston, CA and the Tracy Clark power plant on the lower Truckee River.  They were usually observed perched on large rocks near the river (Panik & Barrett 1994).

Two subspecies of Western fence lizard may be found in our area, and Californiaherps.com has good photographs of each: the Great Basin fence lizard (S.o. longipes), and the Northwestern fence lizard (S.o.occidentalis).

References & Links

Basey, Harold E. 2004. Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians. Fifth printing. Yosemite Association, CA.

Linsdale, J.M. 1940. Amphibians and Reptiles in Nevada. Proceedings of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 73, No. 8, P. 197 – 257.

Panik, H. R. and S. Barrett. 1994. Distribution of Amphibians and Reptiles Along the Truckee RIver System. Northwest Science, Vol. 68, No. 3, p.197-204.

Stebbins, R. C. 1966. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.


Share this Project


  1. This is a female or younger aged yellow-backed spiny lizard (Sceloporus uniformis). This species is also regarded as desert spiny lizard (S. magister) by some authorities.

    1. Author

      Thanks Jackson, I didn’t know we had those around here. How can you tell the difference? I’m looking at photos on californiaherps.com and some of the photos of the fence lizards look pretty light-colored like this one. I’m having trouble telling the two apart. Any tips?

  2. The spiny lizard has a slightly more robust body form than the fence lizard, even at a younger age like this individual appears to be. As they grow larger, they are a very stocky lizard, especially adult males. On the lizard here, you can also see the patchy yellowish scales overlaying tan-colored scales, along with hints of darker dorsal spotting/blotching. The dead give-away, however, is the thin, black collar around the neck, which fence lizards do not have, and often leads to the desert spiny lizard being mis-identified as a collared lizard by less experienced observers.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Jackson — that helps a lot! I will have to go back out and hunt down some more lizards so that I can put the right image on this page. Much appreciated!

      1. Author

        I added a new photo — I think this one is really a fence lizard…

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.