Rose-bellied lizards have found a home in Texas
The rose-bellied lizard (sceloporus variabilis) is a variety of 10 species of spiny lizard that live here in Texas, although unlike some others of its genus, it is rather limited in its range. It can be seen in Texas roughly from New Braunfels west to Camp Wood south to the southern tip of the state. It is not found in any other state in the Union, but outside the United States it can be seen from parts of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas in Mexico and south to eastern Costa Rica.
Members of this genus are often referred to as “tree lizards” or “sand lizards” by those who are vigilant enough to witness them, and this species generally clings to that name. However, larger boulders and smaller boulders are also used to optimize the search for food and companions and to avoid predators.
After the canyon lizard, the rose-bellied lizard is the second smallest member of its genus in this state, with adult males often reaching lengths of just under 5½ inches. Women are a little smaller. Being a member of the prickly lizard family, it has spinose back scales, although those scales are nowhere near as prickly as some of the other members of its clan. The background coloration of this reptile is typically a shade of brown, although gray colored individuals do appear from time to time. There are two very distinctive streaks of light that run lengthways from the eye to the base of the tail, one on each side of the body. Additionally, there is a less noticeable lighter streak that runs along the spine. Between these stripes are several (7 or more) pairs of elongated dark spots, occasionally shaped like crescent moons. This is a pronounced black spot behind the front legs, which is often outlined in blue.
The belly is usually cream in color, and the males have two blue-rimmed pink spots on either side of their belly. The tail is somewhat long and spinose. Just like other members of its genus, its tail can be used as a defense strategy. If the tail is grabbed by a predator, it can be easily separated from the lizard. This defensive movement is known as autotomization. Here the tail comes off pretty easily, and while the potential predator is preoccupied with the tail still moving, the lizard can crawl to safety. Over time, the lizard regenerates a new tail, although it is never as long or as colorful as the original.
Rose-bellied lizards, like other lizard species, are “cold-blooded” or technically ectothermic. This means that they do not generate heat from inside their bodies like mammals and birds, but rely on external sources for heating and cooling. They are mostly active in the summer months, but can occasionally be seen on warm days during the winter months, when temperatures reach levels that allow activity.
This species of spiny lizard is strictly carnivorous. Their main diets include a wide variety of invertebrates such as moths, flies, wasps, and beetles.
Healthy adult women can lay several clutches a year. These eggs are small, generally numbering between 2 and 6. After about 70 days of incubation, the delicate (less than 2 inches long) versions of the parents are born and look like the more boring versions of the adults.
Rose-bellied lizards are quite numerous within the confines of their selected habitat and range. In many instances, I’ve seen dozens of people basking on trails in San Antonio city parks, as well as on trails in most of the state parks in the lower Rio Grande Valley. This species has evidently adapted well to living with humans.
Michael Price owns Wild About Texas, an education company specializing in poisonous animal safety training, environmental counseling, and ecotourism. Contact him at [email protected]