Southern 

Fence Lizard

 

by Sharon LaPlante

Sceloporus undulatus undulatus, also known as the southern fence lizard, or fence swift, is a common sight in many Florida landscapes. The southern fence lizard is approximately 7 inches in length at maturity. It has a rough scaled body that is gray with black and light gray zigzag patterns along its back. Color variations occur giving rise to individuals that are gray to brown with heavy striping or little if any striping. Adult males have brilliant patches of metallic blue along the undersides of their bellies and throats, and may be very dark gray in color. During mating and territorial displays males can be seen doing pushups to show off their blue undersides.

Its natural habitat is pine flatwoods, xeric hammocks and longleaf pine - turkey oak. In the home landscape they can be found climbing on fences and logs, basking in the sun on rocks, and searching for food on wooden decks, garden borders, and trees.

Southern fence lizards are diurnal and can be found hunting prey throughout the day. Fence lizards do not run after their prey, but rather sit and wait for it to stroll by and then pounce upon it. Their diet consists of ants, crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, centipedes, snails and beetles. Ant hills are a favorite hunting ground.

Breeding occurs in early spring. Six to ten eggs are laid in a shallow nest at the base of a clump of vegetation or rotting log. A favorite nesting sight is sawdust. Eggs begin to hatch in early June and throughout the summer months into early fall.

The Florida scrub lizard (Sceloporus woodi) is very similar in appearance to the southern fence lizard. It is distinguished from the fence lizard by its habitat and coloration. The scrub lizard is only found in scrub habitat. Young scrub lizards have two rows of thin zigzag bands on their back, and brown stripes running lateral along their bodies. Adult females retain the dorsal zigzag pattern, however, the dorsal pattern fades in the adult males and only the lateral stripe is seen. In areas where both species occur they may hybridize, which can lead to confusion in identification.

If you catch this lizard by the tail, it will easily break off and continue to wiggle in your hand while the tail-less animal gets away. The tail does regenerate in time.

 

Ashton, Ray E., Jr. and Patricia Sawyer-Ashton. Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians: Part Two: Lizards, Turtles & Crocodilians. Winward Publishing, Inc.: Miami, FL 1988

Williams, Winston & P. Carmichael. Florida's Fabulous Reptiles & Amphibians. World Publications: Tampa, FL. 1991

 

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