Common Sagebrush Lizard - Sceloporus graciosus
(see State Rank Reason below)
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
- Details on Status Ranking and Review
Common Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus) Conservation Status Review
Review Date = 05/03/2018
ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)
Comment170,434 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps
ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)
CommentHabitat is likely stable within +/- 25% since European settlement
ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation
CommentSpecies was regularly detected during rock outcrop surveys across its range
ScoreG - Slightly threatened. Threats, while recognizable, are of low severity, or affecting only a small portion of the population or area.
CommentDegradation of habitat for small portions of population may be a minor threat to this species
SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.
CommentHabitat degradation is likely limited for most areas
ScopeLow - 5-20% of total population or area affected
CommentArea of impact are likely limited
ImmediacyHigh - Threat is operational (happening now) or imminent (within a year).
CommentThreat is ongoing
ScoreB - Moderately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance over a period of several years (on the order of 5-20 years or 2-5 generations); or species has moderate dispersal capability such that extirpated populations generally become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).
CommentModerately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance within 5-20 years or 2-5 generations. Species has good dispersal ca
ScoreC - Moderate. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species but some key requirements are scarce in the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.
CommentFound most often in shrub steppe habitats in association with rock outcrops or bare soils. Occasionally within sparse ponderosa pine and juniper woodlands as well.
Raw Conservation Status Score
3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0 (environmental specificity) + 0 (short-term trend) + 0.75 (threats) = 4.25
The eggs are white, leathery, and oval. Typically, 13 mm (0.5 in) long and 8 mm (0.3 in) wide. Clutch sizes ranges from 3 to 5 eggs (Tinkle et al. 1993). Clutches are laid in loose soil in shallow cavities, often at the base of a shrub (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004).
Hatchlings are 2.3 to 2.8 cm (0.91-1.1 in) snout-vent length (SVL) and are adult-like in appearance.
JUVENILES AND ADULTS:
The body is small and narrow with small spiny, keeled scales covering the back. Usually with a pale dorsolateral stripe on each side. Scales on the rear of the thigh are very small and often granular. Dorsal coloration is brown, olive or gray with a bluish or greenish tinge. The sides of the body and neck often have a rusty-orange hue. Ventral surfaces of females are white or yellow. Males have blue lateral abdominal patches and blue mottling on the throat. Maximum SVL is approximately 6.5 cm (2.56 in) and a maximum total length (TL) of 15 cm (5.9 in), with the tail length about 1.5 times the SVL. Mature males have enlarged postanal scales with two enlarged hemipenal swellings on the underside at the base of the tail. Gravid females may develop a reddish-orange color along the sides (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Koch and Peterson 1995, Hammerson 1999, St. John 2002, Werner et al. 2004).
The Common Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus
) lacks the broad flattened body and the fringe of prominent spines on each side of the body that is present in the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi
), the only other Montana lizard with which it overlaps in range. It differs from the Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis
) by having pale dorsolateral stripes rather than a checkered pattern of darker triangular blotches in rows across the back. The dorsal scales of the Common Sagebrush Lizard are also less prickly and pointed and the blue throat patch in males is less pronounced. The Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea
) has a prominent skin fold on the side of the body. The Western Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus
) has smooth shiny and flat dorsal scales, and juveniles and young skinks have conspicuous blue tails. Common Sagebrush Lizards have keeled or spiny scales, not flattened and shiny, and they never have a blue tail. Western Fence Lizard, Northern Alligator Lizard and Western Skink are found only in northwestern Montana, west of the Continental Divide (St. John 2002, Werner et al. 2004).
Western Hemisphere Range
The Common Sagebrush Lizard is a member of a large genus of North American lizards found from Panama to the Canadian border. Three subspecies are currently recognized: the disjunct Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (S. g. arenicolous) of southeast New Mexico and adjacent Texas (Degenhardt and Jones 1972) has been elevated to full species status since Censky’s (1986) sagebrush lizard species account. Two subspecies are restricted to Pacific coastal states of the U.S. and Baja Peninsula of Mexico. The Northern Sagebrush Lizard (S. g. graciosus) occupies the majority of the species’ range, and occurs from northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, north through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, eastern Oregon, central Washington and southern Idaho. It can be found at elevations to 3,200 m (10,500 ft) in the southwestern states (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Censky 1986) and reaching the northeastern limits of its range in Montana and North Dakota (Hoberg and Gause 1989, Maxell et al. 2003, Werner et al. 2004). In Montana, there are scattered records east of the Continental Divide across the south-central and southeastern counties north to the Missouri River.
Maximum elevation: 1,999 m (6,560 ft) in Gallatin County (Rawson and Pils 2005).
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
No information is currently available regarding Common Sagebrush Lizard migration patterns in Montana.
Information gathered outside the state indicates that Common Sagebrush Lizards probably move moderate distances of a few hundred meters, but dispersal distances are not well documented (Hammerson 1999). Home ranges may be relatively small, averaging 400-600 square meters (1,312-1,967 square feet) in Utah (Burkholder and Tanner 1974).
In many parts of their range, the Common Sagebrush Lizard is an animal of shrub-steppe habitats, preferring rocky outcrops or sandy soils in sagebrush (Artemisia sp.
) and Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata
) communities, and also occupying Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.
), Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus sp.
), and Ceanothus
brushland, Pinyon-Juniper woodland, and open Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa
) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii
) forests (Kerfoot 1968, Marcellini and Mackey 1970, Tinkle 1973, Tinkle et al. 1993, Green et al. 2001).
In Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming it is found at higher elevations in geothermal areas on rhyolite-covered hillsides with Common Juniper (Juniperus communis
) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta
), and with woody debris scattered on the ground (Mueller 1967, Algard 1968, Koch and Peterson 1995). Favored areas tend to have a high percentage of open bare ground and a component of low to tall bushes, such as sagebrush and rabbitbrush (Stebbins 1985, Green et al. 2001). Although a ground dweller, this lizard will perch up to 1-2 m (3.3-6.6 ft) above ground in low shrubs and trees (Adolph 1990b, Hammerson 1999). Rodent burrows, shrubs, logs, and leaf litter are used for cover when disturbed (Nussbaum et al. 1983). Clutches are laid in loose soil in shallow cavities, often at the base of a shrub (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004).
Habitat use in Montana has not been the subject of detailed studies. However, occupied habitats appear similar to other parts of the range (Paul Hendricks personal observation). This species occurs in sage-steppe habitats, sometimes in the presence of sedimentary rock outcrops (limestone and sandstone), and in areas with open stands of Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis
) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma
) or Ponderosa Pine (Hendricks and Reichel 1996b, Hendricks and Hendricks 2002, Vitt et al. 2005). In many places, open bare ground is abundant, grass cover is less than 10%, and height of shrub cover may be as low as 0.25 m (0.82 ft).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
Adults and juveniles are “sit-and-wait” predators that hunt mainly by sight. The diversity of food items indicates prey is opportunistically taken (Burkholder and Tanner 1974). Ants, beetles, moths, and termites are the most abundant of nine orders of insects in the diet. Spiders, scorpions, pseudoscorpions, ticks, and mites have also been reported as food. Adults have been known to sometimes eat hatchling lizards (Burkholder and Tanner 1974, Rose 1976a, Koch and Peterson 1995, Hammerson 1999).
Common Sagebrush Lizards are active during the day in the warmer hours from early May through mid-September in Yellowstone National Park (Koch and Peterson 1995). They emerge in March or April and remain active into October in other parts of the range (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Hammerson 1999). Timing of spring emergence has not been determined for Montana populations, but numerous animals of all size classes have been observed in the last week of September in southern Carbon County (Hendricks 1999a).
In southern Utah and west-central California, the annual survival rate averaged 50-60% in adults, but less than 30% in juveniles and eggs (Tinkle et al. 1993). The southern Utah population appeared to be substantially limited in resources. Home range sizes averaged 400-600 square meters (1,312-1,967 square feet) in Utah (Burkholder and Tanner 1974). Areas experimentally depopulated of this species were quickly recolonized from surrounding areas (M'Closkey et al. 1997).
Use of rodent burrows for overnight refuge, escape, and winter hibernation has been documented. In southeastern Idaho, activity was determined to be unimodal with a peak at 1100 to 1500 hours (Guyer 1978). Preferred body temperature was 30.9 °C (87.6 °F) in Yellowstone National Park (Mueller 1969).
The Common Sagebrush Lizard is probably food for a wide variety of reptiles, birds, and mammals, but documented predators are surprisingly few. Predators include Striped Whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus
), Night Snake (Hypsiglena torguata
), Desert Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores
), Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus
), and a variety of birds including American Kestrel (Falco sparverius
), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis
), Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus
), and Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens
) (Knowlton and Stanford 1942, Tinkle et al. 1993, Hammerson 1999). In Montana the Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus
) is the only predator so far reported (Hendricks and Hendricks 2002).
Essentially no information is available from Montana on any aspect of the reproductive biology of this species. Juveniles 2.8 cm (1.1 in) SVL were collected in mid- to late September in southern Carbon County, indicating eggs hatched sometime in late August or early September (Hendricks 1999a, Paul Hendricks, personal observation).
Across much of the range, eggs are laid during May-July (Tinkle et al. 1993, Hammerson 1999). Most females in Colorado and Utah produce two clutches each year. Extremes in clutch size are 1 and 8 eggs, but throughout the range clutch size averages between 3 and 5 eggs (Tinkle et al. 1993). Eggs hatch in 45-75 days, beginning in early to mid-August in Colorado and Utah, mid-to late August in west-central California (Tinkle et al. 1993, Hammerson 1999).
During three summers in Yellowstone National Park, the first hatchlings were noted 10-13 August (Mueller and Moore 1969). Hatchling SVL in Colorado, Utah and California is about 2.5-2.7 cm (0.98-1.1 in) (Ferguson and Brockman 1980, Tinkle et al. 1993, Hammerson 1999), with a growth rate of about 1 mm/week (0.04 in/week).
Sexual maturity is attained in the first year in the southern portions of the range or second year in the northern extent of the range, although a significant percentage of females in Utah may not mature until their third year (Tinkle 1973, Tinkle et al. 1993, Hammerson 1999). Females in southern Utah produce their first clutch at an age of 22-24 months. In Colorado and Utah, most adult females produce 2 clutches annually. The mean annual survival rate of young and adults is quite variable, but averages about 45% in Utah (Tinkle et al. 1993). Although as many as three-fourths of hatchlings may die (Tinkle 1973, Burkholder and Tanner 1974, Hammerson 1999). Males and females in southern Utah can live for at least six years (Tinkle et al. 1993).
The following was taken from the Status and Conservation section for the Common Sagebrush Lizard in Maxell et al. 2009
At the time the comprehensive summaries of amphibians and reptiles in Montana (Maxell et al. 2003, Werner et al. 2004) were published, there were only 73 total records from 13 counties east of the Continental Divide for Common Sagebrush Lizard. Most records are from Big Horn, Carbon, Powder River, and Rosebud Counties. Populations in Carbon and Powder River Counties appear to be robust (Vitt et al. 2005, Bryce Maxell personal observation), with many recent sightings during favorable conditions. Although size and trend estimates remain unavailable for any locality in Montana, including areas of recent surveys. Connectivity of populations is unknown; gaps of several hundred kilometers exist between documented occurrences along the Missouri River, the lower Yellowstone River, and the concentration of records in south-central Montana. At the local scale, removal experiments show recolonization from adjacent areas can rapidly occur in unaltered habitat (M’Closkey et al. 1997). Densities of this species can be as high as 200 individuals/ha (Tinkle 1973). Risk factors relevant to the viability of populations of this species are likely to include habitat loss/fragmentation, grazing, fire, road and trail development, on- and off-road vehicle use, use of pesticides and herbicides, oil and gas development, and surface mining. However, perhaps the greatest risk to maintaining viable populations of Common Sagebrush Lizard in Montana is the lack of baseline data on its distribution, status, habitat use, and basic biology (Maxell and Hokit 1999), which are needed to monitor trends and recognize dramatic declines when and where they occur. Few studies address or identify risk factors. In an Idaho study (Reynolds 1979), Common Sagebrush Lizards were more abundant in ungrazed than grazed sagebrush (Artemisia
sp.). They were also more abundant in sagebrush (regardless of grazing treatment) than sites dominated by introduced Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum
) following sagebrush removal, possibly because there was more bare ground available in the sage habitat, which could facilitate the ability to bask and move quickly while hunting or escaping predators. The preference for areas with a significant shrub component, >40% bare ground, and <5% grass cover has also been observed in Oregon (Green et al. 2001). Green et al. (2001) also noted habitat loss in the region of their study due to proliferation of invasive plants and conversion of shrub-steppe to cropland. Hammerson (1999) suggested that rangeland “improvements” for livestock, involving sagebrush removal to promote grass communities, could result in local population declines in Colorado.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
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- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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