Monday, October 5, 2009

Yellow-Backed Spiny Lizard

The yellow-backed spiny lizard is one of eight subspecies of the desert spiny lizard. It is found in parts of Southern California, mid and northern Arizona, mid and southern Nevada and the southeast corner of Utah. Desert spiny lizards are large, 3 1/4 to 5 1/2 inches from snout to vent, are stocky, have pointed scales and a black, wedge-shaped mark on each side of the neck. Males have a blue-green patch on each side of the belly, as well as the throat, The belly patches are lined with black and are sometimes joined at the mid-line. In females, the underside blue markings are weak or absent. What distinguishes the subspecies are the dorsal markings. The distinguishing characteristic of the yellow-backed spiny is the uniform light-yellow or tan above, grading into darker brown on the sides. There is often rusty coloring on the sides. Faint blotches are usually present on adult females and sometimes in adult males and juveniles. The spiny, in the next few pictures, was caught near Havasu campground on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona. The wedge-shaped mark is very distinctive and it has pretty, yellowish scales on the side.
They are very fast and difficult to catch by hand. Their spiny scales, size, bulkiness and the existence of some bright color, makes them a wonderfully neat lizard. As a young boy, I have a very vivid remembrance of a giant lizard I saw right beneath Rainbow Bridge in soutern Utah. I spent a long time trying to catch it and with much regret, thought many times, later, of how much I wished I could have caught it. I distinctly remember the spiny scales and bulkiness and it seemed gigantic to me at the time (compared to the much smaller lizards I caught as a boy in Salt Lake City). I am sure what I saw was a spiny lizard.
It also has kind of a fearsome looking face, and as it does push-ups on the rocks, kind of a cockiness to it. The feet on this one have some yellow to them as well.

The undersides of this male are beautiful.

The remaining pictures are of a yellow-backed spiny lizard I caught in Joshua Tree National Park in March 1993, on a rock-climbing trip with the Boy Scouts. Note that the sides of this lizard are much darker than the one above, and the dispersed yellow spots on the side stand out more because they are surrounded by darker, bluish scales.

The blue-green belly scales are outlined in black, unlike the one above. and the coloring on the bottom of the throat is more extensive and uniform.

The black wedge-shaped band on this one continues on and wrap around the neck of the lizard.

They aggressively eat crickets and are easy to keep as pets.

On April 3, 2010, while in the southern portion of Joshua Tree National Park near Carey's Castle, I found this yellow-backed spiny lizard sunning on a rock above us as we walked through a wash.
I climbed up around and got some pictures of it from above.
It had beautiful coloring, particularly the rust stripes on the side.
It was a very large lizard.


  1. ... Looks a lot like a Bearded Dragon from a distance!

  2. I live in Sky Valley, Cal. About 20 miles North of Palm Springs. About 80 miles South of Inyo County. A young Female has showed up on Our property and has been living under Our Giant California Sage Bush. Any idea how she could have gotten this far South?

    1. My Email address is