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Wild Thing: Sun Worshipper

Studies are underway to learn more about the range of the rare reticulate collared lizard.

By Lou Hamby and Randy Cordero

We are all familiar with the beloved Texas horned lizard, but one of the best-kept secrets of Texas nature has to be the rare, remarkable reticulate collared lizard.

The reticulate collared lizard, so named for its pattern of “net-like” scales, generally inhabits South Texas’ thorn-scrub vegetation and is frequently found on a terrain of shallow gravel, caliche or sandy soils. It often frequents scattered flat rocks below escarpments and isolated rock outcrops among scattered clumps of prickly-pear cactus and mesquite trees. As a ground-type lizard, it commonly ranges into mesquite flats far from rocky habitat.

Adult reticulate collared lizards can grow from 14 to 17 inches long. They are sun worshippers, not usually active until temperatures reach 86 degrees. They are extremely wary of people and can usually see us before we see them. They seem to be attracted to caliche roads and caliche areas on ranch properties, so pay close attention to the sides of the road, up on the berm and along the plant line. When Texas turns up the heat, these ground-dwelling lizards find cover in bushes and low-hanging branches up to two or three feet off the ground.

When reticulate collared lizards are frightened or approached by a perceived enemy, they can run at very high rates of speed. Once they take off, they raise themselves off the ground and run on their hind legs, using their tails for balance. When approached, they sometimes freeze in place, relying on their color pattern for camouflage.

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Males can have exceptional coloration during breeding season, displaying gold and yellow on their head and arms. Young males retain a darkened throat patch.

These lizards consume a variety of foods. Because of their size and speed, they are able to consume smaller lizards such as Texas whiptail lizards, small snakes, mice, grasshoppers, moths and butterflies. They can jump up to 18 inches high to capture a butterfly. They also snack on ripe cactus tunas that have fallen to the ground. An insect called a Texas cactus bug (Chelinidea vittiger) lives and feeds on cactus tunas, particularly at the end of the summer before the lizards hibernate, and they provide the lizards with a great opportunity to fatten up at the end of the season.

Females deposit eight to 11 eggs in a suitable environment, usually under a log, pack rat nest or rocks, or in a safe hole. Once the female lays her eggs, she leaves them. When the babies hatch, they are independent from mom. Texas’ fierce roadrunners are always on the lookout for these little newborns, which stay close to cover and are extremely wary of even the smallest movements.

After hatching, the new lizards often gather in a loose-knit community for a short time. In one instance, we found eight or nine neonate lizards within a 50-yard area. This was the only time we observed reticulates in close proximity to one another. Adults are otherwise solitary and territorial.

Researchers and nature lovers must obtain a special permit to study these threatened lizards. New research is underway on both the reticulate and eastern collared lizard to document new areas of distribution, among other things.

If you own ranch property in Maverick County or Kinney County and see or photograph this lizard, please enter your observation on the Herps of Texas project on www.inaturalist.org or contact state herpetologist Andy Gluesenkamp at andy.gluesenkamp@tpwd.texas.gov to help document the lizard’s northernmost range.

 

Common Name: Reticulate collared lizard

Scientific Name:Crotaphytus reticulatus

Habitat: South Texas escaprments and rock outcrops among clumps of prickly-pear and mesquite

Diet: Smaller lizards, small snakes, mice, insects and occasionally plants

Did You Know? When the lizard is chilled, the net-like pattern becomes almost indistinguishable.

 

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