Our common, Side-blotched Lizard, Uta stansburiana.I need to make an apology. Throughout all the years I've been preaching from this pulpit, I have never once (that I can recall) mentioned one of our more handsome reptiles, the side-blotched lizard of the genus Uta. For this I apologize, profusely!
You'll note I used the genus name along with the common name, as this is what I was told the lizard's name was when I met up with my first specimen at Fort Rock years ago. I was strolling along the ancient lake terrace just above the present parking lot, counting Prairie Falcons nests in the towering crags, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something orange-ish suddenly scamper away on the rocks. The reason I actually noted the movement at all was probably the flash of bright orange.
My first glance didn't reveal what it was, as the movement stopped when I stepped closer to the rock outcropping. Then I saw it, a lizard with a bright orange throat and belly. Wow! It was beautiful!
Looking at it closely I saw what appeared to be a hole in the lizard's body, just behind its front leg. When it stopped, however, I could see that it wasn't really a hole, but a dark blueish spot. With the stealth of a Navy SEAL I crept up on the lizard and in a lucky grab I had it in my hand. I had no idea of its name, common or scientific, and no one to ask. (My good friend and herpetologist, Al St. John of Bend, author of Lone Pine Publisher's superb publication, Reptiles of the Northwest, was about 10 years old at that time, busy chasing snakes around McMinnville.) But down in my rig, I had a brand new copy of Stebbins' textbook, Amphibians and Reptiles of North America.
Stebbin's early tome is not a field guide, it's a life-sized book on reptiles and amphibians with "keys" to help identify what you're seeing. With the lizard in one hand, and turning the pages of Stebbins with the other, slowly and laboriously going through the elements of the lizard key, I didn't hear footsteps approaching my side open window. "That's a side-blotched Uta," a voice said in my left ear.
I about jumped out of my skin, but then a finger came through the open window, followed by a hand that turned the pages of the book to 251. Then the voice said, "There it is, right there," stopping on the column with the heading, "Side-blotched Lizard."
When I looked up to say thank you, the man standing there said, "Be sure to put it back where you found it; they're territorial." And with that he walked off toward the interior of Fort Rock. As he walked away, I noticed he had a large piece of carpet rolled up under his arm. Before I could get out of the Jeep and go after him, he vanished in the rocks and sagebrush.
Side-blotched lizards are one of the most abundant lizards throughout the high desert rock piles of Central Oregon. They commonly grow to about six inches, including the tail, males larger than females. It's the males that have the bright orange throat and dark-blue "side blotch." In one of the field guides, can't remember which one, you'll find this statement: "Orange-throated males establish large territories and accommodate multiple females." This had to have been written by a male...It's that bright orange throat and belly that a male displays as a warning to other males of the danger of infringing on his harem.
Life is not a bed of roses for any of our lizards. Fence lizards eat the little guys, and snakes, coyotes, hawks, shrikes, and kestrels go after all sizes. Lizards are not only eaten on the spot by kestrels, but they're hauled home to feed nestlings. But, side-blotched lizards are very efficient hunters themselves; they just eat smaller things, like young fence lizards, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, scorpions and such.
As a result of their high predation rate, however, side-blotched lizards are prolific breeders, with a remarkably rapid gestation period. They breed in April and babies are born as early as late May.
As it is with all our herptiles (amphibians and reptiles), they are protected by Oregon Law. It is illegal to collect, sell, or harm them. If you want to have an exciting afternoon on a nice hot day, just try to get close to a Side-blotched Uta, especially a male bobbing up and down, showing off his beautiful orange throat, ready and willing to "accommodate" his lady friends.