San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
San Diego Alligator Lizard, photographed on Kearny Mesa, San Diego County, by Jim Melli

Elgaria multicarinata
Southern Alligator Lizard


The name multicarinata means "many-keeled." This species was formerly called Gerrhonotus multicarinatus.


Size: The Southern Alligator Lizard has a long, slender body -- up to seven inches -- with relatively small legs. An individual that has never suffered caudal autonomy in an encounter with a predator, may have a tail nearly twice the length of its body, making the largest individuals 21 inches from end to end. An individual with less luck may have a regenerated tail which is shorter and usually a different color from the rest of its body.

Coloration: The body and tail color varies from brown to yellow ochre. Adult lizards are marked with dark crossbands, while juveniles are not. The scales on the back are large, with very pronounced keeling. The skin texture appears rough, a condition resulting from their keeled scales.

Alligator Lizards, especially the males, have large, triangular-shaped heads, giving them a formidable appearance. The large head and long, snake-like body make a chance encounter in the woodpile, or under a shrub, startling, to say the least.

Subspecies: There are as many as five subspecies. Only the San Diego Alligator lizard (E. m. webbi), the Los Coronados Island Alligator lizard (E. m. nana), and the San Martin Island Alligator lizard (E. m. ignava) occur in our region.

Range and Habitat

The Southern Alligator Lizard's range extends from the state of Washington to central Baja California. In southern California, this species is most frequently found throughout the coastal plains, although is has been observed in mountainous regions up to 7500 feet elevation.

The Southern Alligator Lizard is often seen in yards and gardens, sometimes out in the open or in the garage, but usually under piles of wood, rock, or other debris. Don't be surprised to find them on your porch or patio.

Natural History

Alligator Lizards aren't easily intimidated by humans, and, while not poisonous, can inflict a painful bite. They have an ornery disposition and if you decide to catch one, expect to pay the price.

Alligator Lizards have prehensile tails. By using the tail as a support, or to hang onto branches, they can maneuver through vegetation quite effectively.

Their diet includes various insects, small animals such as young mice and birds, tree frogs, and even other lizards. After the May mating season, up to 20 eggs can be laid in June or July. The incubation period is about 55 days, after which the hatching yields tiny individuals, rarely more than three inches long from nose to tail.

Did you know...

The discovery of the Southern Alligator Lizard resulted from collections made during the U.S.-Mexican Boundary Survey of the mid-1850s.

Conservation Status

The Alligator Lizard has successfully adapted to most urban habitats, and no apparent problems exist among local populations.

Text by Dick Schwenkmeyer.
Photo by Jim Melli.

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