If you have a sunny spot in your garden with flowerpots or rocks or logs, perhaps you have seen this little lizard, the Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undalutas) basking in the sun. This mid-Atlantic reptile is easily identified by the gray or brown rough ridged (keeled) scales and dark crossbars. Bright blue markings are found under the chins and sides on males during breeding season (April-August). The territorial males emphasize these bright patches by bobbing up and down to attract females.
As a child, I caught my fair share of fence lizards, however it can be a little tricky. No matter where you may see one, the lizard’s escape tactic is to circling the pot or tree staying just out of sight and out of reach. It can be a dizzying experience. The adult lizard isn’t afraid to bite if caught… although it quite harmless and the bite is only to scare. It does not break the skin.
These days I leave the little fellas alone because if you aren’t adept in trapping lizards on the body but trap the tail instead, they will allow the vertebra in the tail to separate and break off (caudal autonomy) in self-defense. The tail continues to wiggle to distract a predator. In several weeks, it will regenerate with cartilage, not bone, but the new appendage is never as normal looking as the original tail.
Why is the fence lizard a friend in the garden? Its diet consists of spiders and insects, some quite harmful to humans, like ticks. If you would like to attract the fence lizard to your garden, provide a sunny spot with a pile of rocks for basking or pots of flowers and for an escape from predators. The main predator of the fence lizard is the snake… and I have an abundance of them this spring!
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester