Plateau Fence Lizard (Sceloporus tristichus)


A small (up to 80 mm or 3.1″ from snout to vent), gray-brown to golden-brown lizard with pointed, keeled, overlapping scales. Most specimens have two light stripes on the back and a broad, muted, gray mid-dorsal stripe. There are often small, dark blotches between the stripes. Some specimens lack stripes and have dark crossbars. Males have two large, dark-edged, blue patches on the belly. The underside of the throat is marked with two blue blotches, one on each side. Belly patches are faint or lacking in females and, when present, lack dark edges. Gravid females often have an orange or yellow tint on the back. The paired throat blotches distinguish this lizard from the similar looking Common Sagebrush Lizard. Its lack of side blotches distinguishes this lizard from the Common Side-blotched Lizard. The Southwestern Fence Lizard is nearly identical to this lizard in appearance but the two are genetically distinct from one another.


This lizard ranges across nearly all of the Mojave Desert.


A variety of biotic communities including Great Basin Desertscrub, Plains and Great Basin Grassland, Great Basin Conifer Woodland, Madrean Evergreen Woodland, and Petran Montane Conifer Forest are home to this lizard. It inhabits low valleys, grassy plains, bajadas, foothills, rocky canyons, and forested slopes. It is usually encountered in relatively open, sunlit areas with plenty of basking sites such as rock piles, wood piles, and fallen logs.


During the summer this diurnal lizard is most active mid morning and late afternoon. In spring and fall it can be active all day long. It forages on the ground but climbs onto rocks, trees, fence posts, and wood piles to bask. It hibernates during the cold months of winter and late fall.


The Plateau Fence Lizard sits and waits for prey to wander within close proximity. It feeds on a variety of insects including termites, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, flies, larvae, and wasps. It also eats a variety of spiders, snails, and small lizards.


Mating begins in spring and continues into early summer. One to 4 clutches of eggs are laid in late spring and summer. Clutch size ranges from 1 to 10 eggs. Hatchlings begin to emerge in June and continue to emerge through September.


Text is available from Thomas C. Brennan. Photograph is available under a Creative Commons License from Douglas Mills.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.