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I was able to photograph two Zebra-tailed Lizards the other day while hiking in Saguaro National Park (West). Zebra-tailed Lizards are ubiquitous in our desert. You see them everywhere and even our back yard has a robust population of these little lizards. They are also the Devil to photograph and I’d never photographed one to my satisfaction prior to our Saguaro West hike. Typically, a Zebra Tail will run long before one can get in position to take its picture. But, something was certainly different about these lizards in Saguaro West. Several of them seemed unconcerned about our presence and Rene Clark and I were able to crouch within a couple of feet of them to get photos. Here’s an image of a male basking on a rock.
Saguaro West has far less human traffic than does Sabino Canyon. I speculated that the lizards were less fearful in Saguaro West because they’d not seen humans previously. Just a guess on my part.
You’ll note the prominent black stripes on the lizard’s tail. Hence the name “Zebra-tailed.” When this species runs it arches its tail up and over its head and often, what one sees is that striped tail racing away. That might be a defensive tactic on the lizard’s part. Perhaps by running that way the lizard encourages predators like Roadrunners to grab for the tail (which will break free when grabbed) rather than for the lizard’s body. Better to lose a tail than one’s life.
If you look very closely at this lizard you’ll see some bright orange patches on its neck and body. That’s not pigmentation. Rather, those are parasitic mites that frequently infest lizards. Many lizards carry around these mites with little apparent harm.
Here’s a second individual.
When I first photographed it I was convinced that it was a female because it is clearly much less brightly colored than the first lizard. But, on close look, it also appears to be a male. See how it is standing — balanced on its heels? Zebra Tails frequently do that. An explanation for this behavior is that they’re keeping as much of their feet off of the desert floor as possible in order to protect them from burning from extreme heat. On a summer day in the desert the temperature at ground level can easily get above 150 degrees, Fahrenheit.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 125, M setting. The first image was made at f14 @ 1/160, the second at f16 @ 1/160.