Sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)

Small brown, white streaked, sagebrush lizard on the ground, missing part of its tail
Sagebrush lizard missing part of its tail
Category: Reptiles
Ecosystems: Shrubsteppe
State status: Candidate
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Moderate-
High

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting tool or email us at  wildlife.data@dfw.wa.gov. Be sure to include a photo of the species for verification and location (latitude/longitude coordinates) of your observation. 

The population of sagebrush lizard in Washington is low. Washington status is based on the species’ obligate association with sand dunes in the Columbia Basin where greater than 70 percent of this habitat type has been lost since the 1970s. 

Description and Range

Physical description

This is a small (less than 2.4 inches snout to vent length) gray or brown lizard with a mid-dorsal stripe, two light colored stripes on the back and sides, and a series of dark chevron-shaped blotches between the stripes. 

Ecology and life history

A sagebrush lizard basks in the warm sun on a gray boulder
Sagebrush lizard basks in the sun on a boulder National Park Service

Sagebrush lizards are associated with vegetated sand dunes and associated sandy habitats that support shrubs and have large areas of bare ground. These lizards are active on warm, sunny days from early April through Oct. Typically, they can be seen on the ground at the edge of shrubs and other vegetation that provide cover from predators and relief from mid-day heat. They will also climb into the lower branches of shrubs to shelter from the mid-day heat.  

At night, on rainy days and on cool, cloudy days they move underground or shelter under cover objects such as rocks and woody debris. Shrubs without the lower limbs do not provide retreats for sagebrush lizards. Overwintering habitat has not been studied in Washington, but is likely within sand dune habitat.

Sagebrush lizards are gregarious and interact with other lizards, often under the canopy of shrubs.

The species preys on small insects and arachnids, including spiders.

Eggs are laid in early summer. Hatchlings appear in early August.

Geographic range

In Washington, sagebrush lizards occur in the Columbia Plateau and Okanogan ecoregions where they occur on sand dunes. Sagebrush lizards tend to be common where they occur, but their habitat is being fragmented by various factors.

The map illustrates potential range and habitat distribution of this species in Washington. For a map of worldwide distribution and other species' information, check out NatureServe Explorer

Map of Washington showing boundaries of the sagebrush lizard potential range based on its habitat distribution occurring in 18 eastside counties: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Spokane, Walla Walla, Whitman, Yakima.
WDFW State Wildlife Action Plan

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Moderate-
High

Little to no information exists regarding sensitivity of the sagebrush lizard to climate change. It is likely that their overall sensitivity is greater due to habitat specialization (i.e., vegetated sand dunes), which are sensitive to invasive grasses or altered fire regimes that eliminate habitat. Further, this species is a egg-layer that could be influenced by soil moisture patterns at oviposition sites; but lack of data on typical oviposition sites makes any prediction of potential changes highly uncertain.

Confidence: Low

Exposure to climate change

Moderate-
High

  • Altered fire regimes
  • Increased invasive weeds >Temperature changes may affect diet of local populations >Change in wind patterns may alter dune habitats
Confidence: Moderate

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.

Conservation Threats and Actions Needed

  • Resource information collection needs
    • Threat: Lack of information about status. This species is associated with sand dunes. Loss and alteration of sand dune habitat continues to occur throughout the Columbia Basin. Therefore, sagebrush lizard population must be monitored to make sure they are persisting.
    • Action Needed: Monitor populations to make sure their habitat remains suitable and the population persists.
  • Fish and wildlife habitat loss or degradation
    • Threat: Sand dune conversion to agriculture. Excessive livestock grazing can also degrade habitat by removing too much vegetation and damaging the lower limbs of shrubs. 
    • Action Needed: Protect sand dune habitat.  
  • Invasive and other problematic species
    • Threat: Stabilization of sand dunes and loss of bare soils interspersed with vegetation. Non-native invasive species, especially cheatgrass, are stabilizing sand dunes and altering the habitat so that it is not suitable for sagebrush lizards.
    • Action Needed: Prevent land use practices that increase non-native invasive species. Where these plants already occur, find ways to remove and/or prevent expansion.

Resource