Its wide open skies, desert views, and arid scrublands make New Mexico a prime habitat for many reptiles. The lizards that live in New Mexico have adaptations for water retention, habitat mimicry, and occasionally, having venom. It helps that the abundant sunlight in this region of the country provides ample basking opportunities.
Let’s look at some examples of New Mexico’s lizards.
19 Species of Lizards in New Mexico
New Mexico is home to over 40 species of lizards. Today, we’ll take a look at 19 of those species. Keep reading to learn more about what they eat, look like, and where they live in New Mexico.
1. Marbled Whiptail
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis marmoratus
The Marbled Whiptail is a medium-sized lizard with black, gray, and white scales. The patterning is similar to a checkerboard It has a thick body, small front limbs and strong hind limbs, and small head with pronounced earholes.
They live only in dry, arid environments in southeast New Mexico. Their prey includes most insects and scorpions, as well as spiders.
2. Texas Banded Gecko
Scientific name: Coleonyx brevis
The Texas Banded Gecko is one of the only native geckos to New Mexico. It lives in South Central New Mexico in the rocky canyons and crevices where it is most active during the nighttime.
Like many other types of lizards, they shed their tails when threatened. These lizards also squeak if disturbed.
Their diets consist of small insects such as grasshoppers, ants, crickets, and beetles, but they also eat spiders. Identify this gecko by way of its light belly and patterned back.
The back has a pattern of light and dark alternating stripes. Darker spots are overlaid on top of those stripes.
3. Long-nosed Leopard Lizard
Scientific name: Gambelia wislizenii
The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard is a large black and white lizard with black spots along most of its back. They change color depending on their circumstances and range from yellow to gray. Look for this lizard throughout southern and central New Mexico.
Their favored habitat is grassland and scrubby deserts. They are most active during the day and are usually spotted hiding within thickets and the shade of bushes.
They have strong jaws which they use to capture and kill insects. Sometimes plant materials also are on the menu.
4. Gila Monster
Scientific name: Heloderma suspectum
The Gila Monsters are the largest lizard native to the United States. These recognizable brightly colored lizards live in New Mexico’s southwest corner.
They have large, muscular heads, a forked tongue, and wide-set limbs. They have bumpy skin covered in scales with braille-like bumps.
The Gila Monster’s diet varies depending on available food sources in its habitat. They eat everything from small mammals to other lizards to ground-nesting birds. Their bite delivers enough venom to kill their prey, but not enough to be lethal to a healthy adult person.
The Gila Monster’s activity level depends on the season. It hibernates underground in the fall and winter, but is active during the day during the spring and nocturnal in the summer. The changes help it adapt to the habits of prey.
5. Greater Earless Lizard
Scientific name: Cophosaurus texanus
The Greater Earless Lizard is a medium-sized lizard averaging about 3.5 inches long, not including the tail. While its back is drab and gray-brown, its underside is a kaleidoscope of color. The belly has a mix of yellow, orange, blue and green with two black spots along each side.
Spot a Greater Earless Lizard during the daytime in the southern half of New Mexico. They are regular baskers on rocks.
Habitat types they live in include grassland, chaparral, and open coniferous woodlands. They are known to play dead if approached by a predator and will drop their tails to give themselves time to flee.
6. Greater Short-horned Lizard
Scientific name: Phrynosoma hernandesi
The Greater Short-horned Lizard is a tan and brown lizard native to most of New Mexico. As its name suggests, it has short, spiky horns on its head and back.
It blends in with the ground in grassland and plains by flattening itself out and digging a shallow indention into sand or soil. They’re adapted to elevations as high as 10,000 feet.
Ants comprise most of the Greater Short-horned Lizard’s diet. It hunts its prey by remaining still while waiting near a trail of ants or an anthill. When threatened, it can squirt blood from its eyes in an attempt to scare off prey.
Tell it apart from other horned lizard by how short its tail is and how small they are. They are rarely more than 5 inches long.
7. Roundtail Horned Lizard
Scientific name: Phrynosoma modestum
It’s easy to identify a Roundtail Horned Lizard, especially because they lack fringe scales. This orange or grey lizard has a smooth, wide body and a bulky tail. Their heads are blunt-nosed. It is very small and rarely exceeds 3 inches long.
Like most horned lizards, the Roundtail Horned Lizard eats ants. They prefer smaller species of ants instead of large ones. When threatened by a predator, this horned lizard has just one option: run. It can’t squirt blood from its eyes like most horned lizards.
Roundtail Horned Lizards live throughout southern and central New Mexico. They inhabit rocky and sparsely vegetated areas. Look for them in the warm months during the daytime. As soon as it gets cold, they burrow underground for the winter.
8. Plateau Striped Whiptail
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis velox
The small, quick-moving Plateau Striped Whiptail has some tricks up its sleeve that allows it to survive in most of northern and western New Mexico. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary whiptail – blue tail, black and white back with white longitudinal stripes. However, this lizard doesn’t have spots like most whiptails.
It eats insects and spiders, which it hunts for during the daylight hours. They are extremely active and are almost always moving or intentionally basking in sunlight.
Plateau striped whiptail live in grasslands, forests, and scrubby deserts. They run away from predators at high speed.
There are no male Plateau Striped Whiptails. Females reproduce clones of themselves from unfertilized eggs in a process known as parthenogenesis. This is a unique trait of some reptiles and is not possible in mammals.
9. Common Checkered Whiptail
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis tesselata
The Common Checkered Whiptails are long-tailed lizards that can be identified thanks to the spots on their sides and back. Sometimes these spots are alternated and sometimes they give the appearance of a checkerboard. The tail is yellow or brown.
Look for the Common Checkered Whiptail in rocky and dry environments during the warm months of the year. They can’t handle the cold so they hibernate during the fall and winter.
The Common Checkered Whiptail is an all-female species. There are no males because females engage in a process called parthenogenesis. It is a naturally occurring process of cloning.
The eggs the female lays are not genetically distinct offspring. They are actually clones of the mother.
10. Six-lined Racerunner
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis sexlineata
The Six-lined Racerunner is so named because of its powerful hind legs, propensity to run, and six light-colored lines extending from the head to the tail. Males have a blue underside and females’ undersides are light white or yellow.
They are native to Eastern New Mexico and they live in grasslands, hills, and along riparian zones. This lizard is more reliant on water than other New Mexican lizards.
You’re most likely to see one in the morning as it combs through the brush or grass looking for crickets, ants, and insect larvae. They also eat spiders, butterflies, and snails.
11. Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail
Scientific name: Aspidoscelis exsanguis
The Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail is a brown-gray whiptail that grows to about 4 inches long, not including the tail. There are only females of this species since it reproduces via cloning itself.
They are active diggers which root around for insects in the soil near rocks and bushes. Termites, ants, spiders, and scorpions are some of their prey.
Unlike other spotted whiptails, they are more reliant on water. You’re likely to find this lizard dwelling around streams or rivers. In New Mexico, there are few lakes, but canyon bottoms often stay more moist than exposed land.
12. Great Plains Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon obsoletus
You won’t have to look hard to find a Great Plains Skink in New Mexico. These lizards are native to all but the northernmost counties in the state. They reach upwards of 6 inches long, have a pronounced blue tail and short, stubby legs, and are active during the day.
Great plains skink rely on cloud cover to come to the surface since they spend most of their lives right under the surface of the leaf litter or rocks and are sensitive to intense light. They can release their tails as well as grow a new one.
Insects comprise the majority of this lizard’s diet. It dispatches its prey with quick bites.
13. Many-lined Skink
Scientific name: Plestiodon multivirgatus
The Many-lined Skink is native to most of central and western New Mexico. It prefers to live in open woodlands, coniferous forests, and grasslands.
If there is a reliable source of ground cover, it can probably inhabit the area. Even though it is a diurnal species, it spends most of its life under leaf litter and light rocks.
Not including its tail, the Many-lined Skink averages about 3 inches long. It has a robust tail that it can drop and regenerate as well as a small head and small limbs. They are slightly snakelike.
14. Common Side-blotched Lizard
Scientific name: Uta stansburiana
The Common Side-blotched Lizard is a gray and yellow lizard native to most of New Mexico. There are two subspecies, the Eastern and the Plateau Side-blotched Lizard, both of which share many similarities. They average 2.5 inches long, not including the tail, and are highly speckled with light spots on a dark background.
Common Side-blotched lizards live in open grasslands, scrubby deserts, and chaparral-type environments. They prefer open areas that get a lot of sunlight.
They eat insects, spiders, scorpions, and even plants. It hunts by lying in wait for prey to pass by, at which point it ambushes.
15. Plateau Fence Lizard
Scientific name: Sceloporus tristichus
The Plateau Fence Lizard is a small brown or gray lizard that lives in the northern third of New Mexico. It makes itself at home in open woodlands or rocky, scrubby places. They adapt well to human infrastructure, especially suburban neighborhoods.
They are ambush predators that hunt during the daytime. The warmer the conditions, the more likely this lizard is out and about. Their favorite foods are insects, spiders, snails, and even small lizards.
It has a casual approach to hibernation: while it does hibernate during cold months, it will wake up and bask in the sun if it is warm outside, even during the winter months.
16. Crevice Spiny Lizard
Scientific name: Sceloporus poinsettii
The Crevice Spiny Lizard is native to the southern half of New Mexico. There are two subspecies – the Texas and the New Mexico Crevice Spiny Lizard – that share the eastern and western half of the state, respectively.
Males are slightly longer than females, but both sexes average just over 5 inches long, not including the tail. They have a black and white collar and tail.
Spot a Crevice Spiny Lizard in a rocky landscape. It usually hides in crevices in the rock while it waits to catch insects, spiders, and centipedes. The larger the lizard, the more likely it is to supplement its diet with plants.
17. Eastern Collared Lizard
Scientific name: Crotaphytus collaris
The Eastern Collared Lizard is native to all of New Mexico. It prefers rocky environments where it can bask and see approaching prey and predators.
They are quick to run but aggressive when cornered. Their diet consists of scorpions, lizards, and small mammals like mice and voles. They can grow up to 14 inches long.
18. Ornate Tree Lizard
Scientific name: Urosaurus ornatus
The Ornate Tree Lizard is a drab gray-brown desert lizard that blends in well with desert sands and rocky, harsh environments. It is small and measures under 3 inches long, but it has one secret: its underside is a bright aquamarine blue.
Find them in streamside habitats during the daytime. They like to bask from well-lit vantage points and watch for insects and spiders.
19. Madrean Alligator Lizard
Scientific name: Elgaria kingii
The Madrean Alligator Lizard is a larger lizard that lives in the deserts and scrublands of New Mexico. It takes advantage of the variety of environments in New Mexico by living in streamside habitats, canyons, and rocky slopes. It is most active during the day, especially during the morning and evening.
This lizard’s diet consists of soft-bodied and winged insects, including caterpillars, moths, and grasshoppers. They can also eat scorpions despite their lethal venom.
When threatened, its tail can break off and continue to wriggle. This allows the lizard a chance to escape from predators. They hibernate in cold weather during the fall and the winter.