Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the July 10, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA
SOUTHERN ALLIGATOR LIZARD

Southern Alligator Lizard, Gerrhonotus multicarinatus, photo by Daniel Adams of California
Southern Alligator Lizard, Gerrhonotus multicarinatus; photo by Daniel Adams of Placerville

At first glance alligator lizards look like fence lizards. However, anatomically they are so different from other lizards that they are placed in their own order, like the Turtle Order and the Lizard Order. One major feature setting alligator lizards apart from other lizards is that the scales of alligator lizards are so large and bony (they're called osteoderms) that not only are they conspicuous but also they make the critter's body so stiff that it's hard for it breathe! The breathing problem is overcome by the presence of a flexible band of soft, granular scales along the side, shown in the inset at the upper left. When the lizard inhales, this flexible band expands. Alligator lizards are often found during the day hanging out in junky places.