The Sierra alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea palmeri) belongs to the family Anguidae, a clade encompassing glass lizards (Ophisaurus), slowworms (Anguis), and galliwasps (Diploglossus). Alligator lizards get their common name from their distinct dorsal keeled scales which are likened to scutes on a crocodilian and because of their tendency to gape defensively. The tail is more than 1.5 times the length of the body and can detach and twitch violently to divert a predator’s attention, much like in many geckos and skinks. It was interesting to observe the lizard freeze in response to my disturbance and slowly maneuver its way into the brush. I had expected alligator lizards to behave more erratically like a spiny lizard (Sceloporus sp.), but this one seemed to have a gradual increase in speed as it moved away, eventually moving quite fast.
Photographed after disturbance