Eastern Collared Lizard

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The other afternoon I set out to find a specific subject to photograph — an Eastern Collared Lizard.  It had been a couple of years since I’d photographed one of these lizards and I was determined to find one.  So, I embarked on a hike amid the boulders and hillsides of Sabino Canyon.  Eastern Collared Lizards are large, extremely colorful reptiles.  In our part of the country they may be found on rocky hillsides.  They love sunny weather and seem to enjoy heat, so the best time to go looking for these lizards is during the sunniest — and often, hottest — time of the day.

It was hard work.  The temperatures were in the low 90s (above 32 degrees Celsius)  and going after these lizards involved a bit of climbing. The trail wasn’t difficult but in direct sunlight it became a challenge after a while.  I had brought a fairly large quantity of water with me on my hike, an absolute necessity when hiking in the desert, and I quickly consumed most of it as I walked the trails.

I had been out for nearly two hours without any luck and I became pessimistic.  I was beginning the downhill part of the hike, headed back to the canyon’s visitor’s center, and I’d decided that I was going to be skunked.  And then, there she was, basking in the sunshine on a large rock right by the side of the trail.

I knew immediately that this was a female Eastern Collared Lizard.  She was wearing her breeding colors, consisting of the brilliant orange markings on her neck and flanks.  Males of this species are colored a gaudy turquoise and gold.  Females, considerably less colorful, are nonetheless very beautiful, particularly during breeding season.

Eastern Collared Lizards can grow up to about 14 inches in length (about 35.5cm) from their noses to the tips of their tails.  However, most of that is tail — these lizards have extremely long, non-detachable tails.  From nose to base of tail, one of these lizards measures about 4.5 inches (about 11.4cm).  That makes these lizards rather large as our local lizards go.

They are aggressive predators, eating just about anything that they can capture, ranging from insects to smaller lizards and even small snakes.  They are capable of running at very high speed and are renown for running solely on their hind legs.  They have powerful jaws and they can deliver a painful, if non-venomous, bite to the unwary human who attempts to pick one of these up.

If you look closely at these images, you’ll notice that she is “wearing” some cactus spines, most notably one that is embedded in the skin of her lower jaw. I’ve observed many lizards and snakes sporting cactus spines. Evidently, it’s an occupational hazard for these desert dwellers and they don’t seem to mind, particularly.

This lizard was extremely cooperative.  She knew that I was only a meter or so away from her as I photographed her but she barely reacted to my presence.  I spent nearly 1/2 hour attempting to photograph her from various angles and different locations and she never seemed to mind.

I’ve had that experience on other occasions with Eastern Collared Lizards.  Most lizard species are very wary of humans but not these lizards.  I’m not certain why they are so comfortable in the presence of eager photographers but I’ll hazard a guess.  As I’ve explained, these lizards are predators.  I’m certain that they aren’t apex predators in the sense that they have no natural enemies.  Coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional Red-tailed Hawk might regard one of these as a potential snack.  But, that aside, Eastern Collared Lizards have few natural enemies and they may not recognize humans as threats.  In any event, I’m extremely grateful for the cooperation that I received from this very beautiful individual.

By the time I finished photographing this lizard, I’d been out in broiling sunshine for 2 1/2 hours and was out of water.  I was pretty tired, but I felt little pain the last half-mile of my hike because I was elated with my encounter.

Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens, illuminated by Canon Ring Light, M setting, ISO 100, f14 @ 1/160.

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