You walk up to a fallen tree or a woodpile and hear it – that dry scurrying sound that is often the first indication that an Eastern Fence Lizard is nearby.
Fence lizards, very often called pine lizards here in Alabama, are probably the second most common lizards found in our area.
In the Lake Martin area, the American Anole, which is often called a “chameleon,” usually ranks No. 1, depending on the local terrain. If you’re around fences, logs, rocks and the edges of forests, the Eastern Fence Lizard might be more plentiful.
And the reason these gray lizards are often heard before seen is that they spend a lot of time basking in the sun on top of log piles and rocks, where they can see you coming from quite a distance and where their camouflage makes it hard for you to see them first.
Eastern Fence Lizards are usually gray, brown or rusty red in color. The patterns of these colors vary depending on where the lizards live and their genders. Males during breeding season have a bright blue throat and belly. Females typically have a series of dark wavy lines across their backs, like the one pictured here.
These lizards are relatively thick-bodied and can reach a length of almost 7½ inches. Their average weight is about half an ounce.
The Eastern Fence Lizard – Sceloporus undulates – is one of many closely related subspecies, including the Southern Fence Lizard, the Southern Prairie Lizard, the White Sands Prairie Lizard, the Northern Prairie Lizard, the Northern Fence Lizard, the Southern Plateau Lizard and the Red-Lipped Prairie Lizard. The lizard in our area ranges from New York to Texas and Colorado to mid-Florida.
A wide range of bugs make up this lizard’s diet: ants, lady bugs, spiders, grasshoppers, stink bugs, centipedes, beetles as well as some vegetation and a snail or two. Eastern Pine Lizards spend most of their days basking and moving from place to place with the sun to regulate body temperature. They typically hunt for food twice a day. Once the body’s temperature is up, this lizard can move very quickly.
These lizards are preyed upon by predatory birds, snakes – such as cottonmouths, king snakes and rat snakes – other lizards and domestic cats and dogs. They are commonly pestered by chiggers, which attach to them as parasites.
Like squirrels, Eastern Fence Lizards flee up the trunk of a tree when pursued by predators, stopping on the opposite of the tree. If the predator circles around, the lizard will continue to corkscrew higher up the trunk to safety.
Male Eastern Fence Lizards can be aggressive during breeding season when they show off their blue undersides by bobbing their heads and doing pushups to warn other males that are entering their territory. They use their blue throats and bellies to attract females in the spring mating season as well, and they also have a chemical love potion – a pheromone secreted from their anal gland that the gals find enticing.
Fence lizards are not monogamous. In fact, they have a love ‘em and leave ‘em habit; males and females don’t hang out together after mating season.
Females deposit their eggs – a clutch of 3 to 16 at a time – a couple of inches under the soil, and the young lizards hatch out after about 10 weeks. While the first-time moms usually lay a single clutch in a year, older gals can have as many as four clutches of eggs a summer. Mother lizards treat their offspring the same as their boyfriends … no contact after the eggs are laid.
Eastern Fence Lizards reach maturity at 1 to 2 years old and live roughly 4 to 5 years.
Interestingly, studies have shown that these lizards have evolved longer legs since the fire ant arrived in America at the Port of Mobile around 1918. Fire ants can kill a Fence Lizard in less than a minute.
Eastern Fence Lizards make good pets in a terrarium with a UV light bulb. They typically like daily misting with water and lots of fresh drinking water. They should be fed 3-4 times a week with 3-4 live crickets at each feeding.