Crawlies with Cri: by Christy Solo

It’s time to revisit and learn more about a crawly we met several years ago. Meet the forest alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata). The forest alligator is a southern alligator lizard and contrary to their name, they live all along the Pacific Coast.
Northern alligator lizards live in the same area, but they also live a tiny bit further north and up over into Idaho and Montana.
All alligator lizards are “look do not touch ” crawlies.
This is partially for your safety, largely for the lizard’s safety. Alligator lizards will often bite if handled, and who can blame them? They’ll also express bodily fluids on you, and no one wants that.
Like many lizards, alligator lizards can drop their tails as a defense mechanism and while their tails do grow back, they don’t grow back quickly and generally a regrown tail isn’t as nifty as their original. Often their tails are longer than their bodies and they are semi-prehensile allowing the lizards to use them for climbing. Those tails are important.
As handling them can easily cause them to drop their tails from fear – look, don’t touch.
If an alligator lizard does drop their tail to avoid becoming a predator’s lunch, the tail will continue to wriggle for several minutes, distracting the would-be predator and allowing the lizard to escape.
They also use their tails to avoid being eaten in another way, young alligator lizards have been seen pulling an “ouroboros maneuver”, biting their own tails and holding on to make themselves too large for snakes to swallow.
Alligator lizards can be found throughout our area. Habitats include grassland, open forest, and chaparral. They are common in foothill oak woodlands. They spend their days hiding under rocks, logs, in brush, under boards, trash and other surface cover. They are variable in color, they can be brown, gray, green or golden.
Seeing one is lucky as they move quickly. At a glance, you might think you’re seeing a snake because alligator lizards tuck in their rear legs and pull themselves with their front legs in an undulating motion to appear more snake-like.
When not hiding or fleeing from potential predators, alligator lizards are predators in their own right. Their diet includes small arthropods, slugs, snails, lizards, small mammals and occasionally bird eggs.
Speaking of eggs, female lay clutches of up to 20 eggs in early summer. She will usually lay them in rotting wood or decaying plant matter to keep them warm. She guards the eggs until fall when they hatch. Baby alligator lizards hatch out fully formed and about four inches long. They get right to eating before they hibernate through the winter.
Alligator lizards are generally secretive, tending to hide in brush or under rocks, although they are often seen foraging out in the open or on roads in the morning and evening. They are most active early in the morning and at twilight, though they will forage at night when temperatures are especially high.
You have a good chance of spotting an alligator lizard anytime over the summer, but your odds may be better late in the fall when they start moving back near buildings to find shelter for the winter. Don’t worry, they won’t take up any space inside your house, but maybe under it.