Sagebrush Lizards

Sagebrush Lizard Life

Sagebrush lizards, fortunately, are not threatened and are found throughout high-altitude areas of the West. I saw one in a lava field near Bend, Oregon. This small, hardy lizard, under 3 inches long, was surviving in a terrain of scarce water, little vegetation, not much sagebrush that I could see, shade that was only provided by rocks, and rapidly changing weather. Basalt rocks fused together made up much of the landscape, and huge boulders, formed like snowballs rolling down a lava river, had become stuck around every 30 feet. It seemed a difficult place to find a fragile-looking creature.

During hot sun, sagebrush lizards typically escape to the shade of plants. I wonder how the lava lizards find good shade amongst rocks, which heat up so much more than plants. During rain or cold weather, they go underground. When snow and frost come at high altitude, they hibernate. I can imagine the snow-trapped peaks around Bend beginning in November, and now I will think of all the animals hibernating in amongst the rocks and dirt. These small lizards will be among them.

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Sagebrush lizard sunning on a volcanic rock, taken by Sherry Smith, Newberry Volcanic Monument, Bend, OR, 7/2017

These lizards closely resemble Western fence lizards, so common throughout the West. However, they are smaller and live at higher elevations.

A Quest to Find Sagebrush Lizards (and Other Animals of the Lava Landscape)

I photographed a sagebrush lizard while walking the Trail of the Molten Land at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center outside Bend, Oregon. The trail is an easy loop with fantastic interpretive signs. One sign details many of the creatures living in the volcanic landscape. I even saw a pika on my walk, but I didn't get a photo. I started my hike around 9:30 am on a July day, and that was the perfect time to set out as many of the animals were active. The lizards tend to sun themselves from 10:00 to 2:00.