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Before you can properly identify lizards you need to know the difference between reptiles and amphibians. When you are ready to go out in the field download our field guide to take with you. LLOLA Field Guide (684K PDF)
A quick glance with an untrained eye can easily lead to a mistaken identification. For example, this skink is often mistaken for a snake because of its sleek appearance. When it is running fast, you can easily miss its four legs — which means it is a lizard and not a snake.
This image is of a legless lizard — which is often mistaken for a snake. The way to tell it is a lizard and not a snake is to look closely at its eyes. If it blinks it is a lizard, because snakes don’t have eyelids.
Some lizards may have dropped their tail giving them a foreshortened appearance.
Clues to the identity of an animal often lie in the specific habitat it is found, its color, size, and behavior. However, juveniles can look different from adults, males different from females, so always look at the basic body shape first. After you look at the body shape you can look at color and size to help with an identification.
Also check out our printable Field Guide (300K PDF) — easy to print and take with you when you go searching for lizards.
For more detailed information on these species or any others please visit our resources page.
*Occasionally someone may come upon a non-native lizard that was introduced or released. Few introduced lizards can survive the California climate, but there is always a slight possibility that a non-native individual or a non-native population is hanging on somewhere.
Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata
Size: E. multicarinata ranges from 2 7/8 - 7 inches (7.3 - 17.8 cm) in snout to vent length and up to about 12 inches (30cm) in total length.
Appearance: Alligator lizards have large bony scales, a large head on an elongated body and powerful jaws. They are characterized by a slim body with short limbs and long tail. The semi-prehensile (can hold on to things) tail can reach twice the length of its body if it has never been broken off and regenerated.
Color is brown, gray, or yellowish on the back, with red, white or black blotches in a cross-banded pattern or occasionally reminiscent of a checker-board pattern. The scales on the back and legs are strongly keeled (ridged in the center). A characteristic band of small scales creates a fold along each side.
Size: Grows up to nearly 4 inches (10 cm) long from snout to vent.
Appearance: One of the most commonly seen lizards in our region, you can often watch them doing push-ups on rocks, logs, and fences — hence the name. Another name this lizard goes by is “Blue-Belly,” which refers to the bright blue markings on their undersides, especially on adult males.
This is a fairly small lizard with keeled (ridged in the center) scales, giving it a spiny appearance. They can be grayish brown to black with bars or blotches that form parallel rows on either side of the body. This may not be visible on very dark individuals.
Uta stansburiana elegans
Size: 1.5 - 2.5 inches (3.8-6.3 cm) long from snout to vent.
Appearance: A small brownish gray lizard with small smooth granular scales on the back, larger scales on the head and limbs. It also has a gular fold (fold of skin under the neck), a long thin tail and a dark blue-black mark on the sides of the chest behind the front limbs, which gives this lizard its name. However, this mark is sometimes faint or absent. Color is brown, gray, yellowish, or black, with dark blotches, spots, and sometimes stripes. Often there is a double row of dark spots or wedges on the back, edged with white on the rear. The underside is whitish to gray and mostly unmarked. The throat is mottled with dark and light.
Size: 4 - 3/8 to 7 inches (11.1 - 17.8 cm) long from snout to vent.
Appearance: A small slender lizard with no legs, (though they have both a pelvic, and pectoral girdle internally) a shovel-shaped snout, smooth shiny scales, and a blunt tail. No external ear openings are visible. They are sometimes confused for snakes (which have no eyelids), but on close observation the presence of eyelids is apparent when these lizards blink. Unlike a snake, the lower jaw is also somewhat inset to prevent sand from entering the mouth when burrowing.
Back coloration varies from metallic silver, beige, dark brown, to black. Belly coloration varies from whitish to bright yellow. Typically there is a dark line along the back and several thin stripes between scale rows along the sides. Juveniles have a stripe on their back or sides, and a very pale belly.
Garden Slender Salamander-Batrachoseps major
California Black-bellied Salamander-Batrachoseps nigriventris
Not a lizard! This lizard look-alike is actually an amphibian—a group of backboned animals that spend the juvenile part of their lives under water.
Size: Adults are 1 1/4 – 2 1/3 inches (3 - 5.5 cm) long from snout to vent.
Appearance: These small salamanders breathe through smooth, moist, thin skin. They have short limbs, a narrow head, long slender body, and a very long tail, which give this species a wormlike appearance. This is typical of most Slender Salamanders, in addition to the presence of four toes on the front and hind feet. Other California salamanders have five toes on the hind feet.
These amphibians are often found under rocks, logs, bark, and flower pots. They are often mistaken for worms.