Reptiles and Amphibians of the Intermountain West

Hello from Comb Ridge, Utah. I'm travelling through the Intermountain West -- the arid lands of America between the Cascades and the Rockies -- on a Whitman College program called Semester in the West. There are oodles of things to write about, but let's begin with the reptiles I've seen along the way.

Ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornate.

We found this individual dead on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Long-nosed leopard lizard, Gambelia wislizenii. We found her in a private yard full of native plantings in Castle Valley, Utah.

Note the long-nosed leopard lizard's orange spots and long, striped tail.

I think this guy is an eastern fence lizard, Sceloporus undulatus. However, he does not have a blue belly or throat (which may or may not be present, according to the field guide.) We found him at Sand Island, Utah among ancient rock art.

Another view of the supposed eastern fence lizard. Note the blue armpit.

This eastern fence lizard had a striking black and blue line down its side. We found him in Comb Ridge, Utah.

I don't know who this is. Could be a small eastern fence lizard, or perhaps a tree lizard, Urosaurus ornatus?

I found this side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, soaking up my body heat under my sleeping bag on Comb Ridge, Utah!

Evan and the side-blotched lizard communed after breakfast.

Aren't those turquoise spots and long nails glamorous?

One of three northern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus) found lurking around our campsite in the Methow Valley of Washington State. He chilled out in this empty cooler until we transported him to a better spot. Would have been an unpleasant surprise for anyone hoping for a cold drink...
Photo credit: Thomas Meinzen

Wildlife wrangler extraordinaire Kent deftly placed our venomous friend in an unoccupied cooler.
Photo credit: Thomas Meinzen

This garter snake (perhaps a wandering garter, Thamnophis elegans vagrans) was hiding under a plastic bin on the garlic farm made famous by Stanley Crawford's The Garlic Testament, near Dixon, New Mexico.

A 3-inch diameter rattlesnake (Crotalus sp.) near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The largest I've ever seen! She rattled at us from her crevice.

Our resident snake-o-phobe and serpent-detector, Fields, found a Chihuahuan night snake (Hypsiglena jani) coiled in a perfect S in the path to his tent. It was cool and docile! EDIT: I previously mis-identified this snake as a baby gopher snake and was corrected by a helpful, anonymous commenter. Thanks to Anonymous and iNaturalist for helping me get to the correct identification. This snake was found near Cieneguilla Recreation Area just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Chihuahuan night snake made a lot of friends, especially Thomas.

Sarah has a future career as a snake hand-model.

A snakeskin found by Amanda on Black Mountain in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico as we surveyed for endangered night-blooming cereus cactus. It had a face with eye-lenses still intact!

A Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) skittered across our path near Black Mountain, New Mexico. They are what ecologist Paul Arbetan calls "a fermenting vat with legs," because they use their round bellies to digest ants.

A greater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus) posed in plank position at our campsite outside Big Bend National Park in Texas. Notice that pastel, rainbow belly!

An American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) made an appearance at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. They are invasive throughout the West Coast and Southwest.

Tiny red-spotted toads (Anaxyrus punctatus) hopped on the mud banks of the Rio Grande.

Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii) found hopping among our sleeping bags during a light rain on Adams Ranch on the Rio Grande, about an hour from Big Bend National Park.

We have also seen a plateau whiptail, Aspidoscelis velox, in Castle Valley, Utah and a short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona.

Our Navajo host, Adrian, taught us that the short-horned lizard is called che in Navajo. It is believed to have fought with a dark storm cloud and won because its thorny armor can deflect lightning. We learned how to bless the lizard with a sprinkle of water, and we would have added corn pollen if we'd had it. Then Adrian placed the lizard over his heart and feet to bless himself before returning it gently to its sagebrush home. To learn more about Navajo reptiles, have a look at DinĂ© Traditional Teachings on Wildlife.

For my future reference, here are all the lizard species I have seen on this trip:
  1. Side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana
  2. Eastern fence lizard (northern plateau lizard), Sceloporus undulatus
  3. Plateau whiptail, Aspidoscelis velox
  4. Short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi
  5. Long-nosed leopard lizard, Gambelia wislizenii
  6. Short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi
  7. Texas horned lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum
  8. Greater earless lizard, Choposaurus texanus

Thanks to Southwest Guide Books and Utah Herps for the information I used to identify these reptiles. Please contact me if you notice any errors, and stay tuned for more posts from the West!