Northern Alligator Lizard (Gerrhonotus coeruleus)
By: Veronica Sommerville
Whistler Naturalist Society
Date: August 1, 2003
Alligators in this part of the world! You bet. On what was an otherwise dreadful day of moving, I was pleasantly surprised by our one and only four-legged reptile found in this neck of the woods. Leaving the dismantling of the garage until the bitter end, I was cranky by the constant, yet annoyingly unexpected, dust bombs to the face. Lifting the final piece of lumber away from the wall, out comes another huge spider frantically scrambling to a new hiding place among my dusty belongings. But this time he is being chased. A Northern Alligator Lizard (Gerrhonotus coeruleus) is in hot pursuit oblivious to the fact that there are three human beings standing above him. It suddenly stops and assesses the situation with his dark reptilian eyes. I think it may have theorized that if it stood very still we would be unable to see it. This incorrect assumption gave us an excellent opportunity to have a closer look.
From nose to tail the alligator lizard in my garage was about 10” long but they have been known to grow up to 13”. As his name suggests, he looks like a miniature alligator, complete with brown scales, distinct folds down the sides with dark brown and black splotches along his tan body.
Although my garage has enough spiders to feed an army of alligator lizards, their preferred habitat is on the forest floor amongst the rotten logs, rocks and detritus where it is generally stays cool and damp. They are found in wide band of elevations up to 3200m (10, 500’), because unlike many of its southern cousins, it can tolerate the cooler and wetter weather. With the onset of winter, the alligator lizard will hibernate for as many months as it takes for the surroundings to become agreeable again to his cold-blooded body.
Once the N. Alligator Lizards arise from hibernation in the spring, it is mating time. After a long sleep, these lizards are a rambunctious lot and are known to copulate sometimes for more than 24 hours! Live young, in a litter of up to 15 are produced from this bond in 7-10 weeks.
Alligator lizards are strictly daytime hunters and are predators to some of our coolest crawly critters, such as millipedes, spiders, snails and other insects. They are however, prey to many of our snakes, such as garter snakes as well as large raptors and it is not unheard of for the cat to bring one home as a surprise for you.
Next time you are walking along the edge of the forest, perhaps at the top of a rocky slope and you hear something rustling around in the leaves, don’t just assume it is a mouse. It may be our four-legged reptile, the Northern Alligator Lizard, perhaps chasing a tasty meal of a marzipan millipede.