Western Fence Lizard (blue-belly)

Western Fence Lizard blue-bellyA blue-belly lizard on a fallen log atop Pine Mountain in the Sespe Wilderness.

Blue-belly lizards always interested me as a boy. Sort of like a cat attracted to movement, they naturally captured my attention when they scurried around on boulders in creeks or my backyard fence.

Then my dad taught me how to fashion a lasso from the pliable flower stalk of green wild oats. I could use the grassy length of plant to get close enough to catch the otherwise uncatchable speedy reptiles by slipping the noose over their head, which pulled tight when they darted away.

Another fascinating lesson came when I learned to put a blue-belly to “sleep” by slowly turning it on its back and gently stroking its belly. It’s small experiences like that, I suppose, which helped instill in me an interest in the natural world as I grew up, and made me to understand that moments of wonder and amusement could be found in the smallest of things.

Blue Belly Lizard Western FenceA blue-belly hiding out in a tiny cave along the hike to Arrowhead Spring in the Los Padres National Forest.

In a previous post, Ticks, Lizards and Lyme Disease, I mentioned a fascinating biological connection between blue-belly lizards and a decrease of the debilitating Lyme disease found in California. Another notable characteristic of blue-belly lizards is their ability to change color.

Contrary to misinformation found on the Internet, however, these lizards do not change color for defense purposes as a means of subterfuge, but do so to help thermoregulate. Blue-bellies have a third eye of sorts called a parietal eye, which is seen as a dot on the large scale found behind their two eyes. It communicates with their brain based on a measurement of ambient sunlight to determine, depending on their need to warm or cool themselves, how dark or light their skin tone should be, which increases or decreases, respectively, the amount of heat they absorb from the sun.

Sometimes the small and seemingly ordinary things have interesting stories to tell for those willing to take the time to listen.


Joan Easton Lentz, A Naturalist’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Region (2013)

This entry was posted in Santa Barbara County and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Western Fence Lizard (blue-belly)

  1. what a great post.. fun and interesting, especially about the third eye.

    so teach us how to lasso a lizard! 


    • hikerchick says:

      My late husband and I caught one and kept her as a pet for a few weeks…we let let go after she laid some eggs. She was a beautiful creature. He had fashioned some type of leash for her, and he knew how to put her to sleep as well. She was a Florida Fence Lizard…same family, I guess.

      • living in tropical dry rain forest in ecuador, i see lizards and iguanas and geckos daily. cute frogs sneak into the house as well in search of water, and they often hide in vases of water or even toilets.. i never knew that one could ‘tame’ them… my friends are going to roll their eyes and say, ‘oh no.. what’s she going to do now?’

        thanks for your feedback!

  2. crazyguyinthailand says:

    nice pic. I really like the first shot 🙂

  3. EMW says:

    This is tantamount to reading a review of my childhood; amazingly perceptive how you develop these topics. As a kid in the “Sunkist” development in south Oxnard, I walked to school through a lemon orchard (long, long gone) teeming with blue-belly lizards. I was endlessly fascinated by them. Several of us identified a spot in the orchard we named “lizard log” where we spent hours. One old timer even showed me how to put the lizard to sleep as you describe. I remember going to the old Carnegie library in downtown Oxnard and looking up “blue-belly lizard” in every reptile book I could find. I finally came to the conclusion the creature was properly named the Western Fence lizard or the Western Fence Swift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s