My Garden’s Blue Belly Lizards

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

IMG_1560annotated_resizedIf you garden in the Southwest, doubtless you have Western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), also known as blue bellies. They do push-up displays on boulders and scurry if you get too close. They’re part of my garden’s ecosystem, and I’m grateful to them for eating insects. Other than that, I seldom gave them a thought…until recently.

IMG_1554annotated_resizedBoys visited this summer—my 6-year-old grandson, and Andrew, 13, my husband’s second cousin from Denver. Naturally we went hunting in the garden. IMG_1535annotated_resized

I had no idea lizards were so easy to catch. When they’re sunning themselves in the early morning is a good time—their blood isn’t warm yet and they’re lethargic.


We made terrariums and provided little saucers of water, complete with cave-like shelters of wood or pottery.


More than once I thought a lizard had escaped and then noticed a tail emerging from a lizard-shaped lump in the sand. We fed them live beetles from the garden and pet-store crickets.


Here’s Andrew with two lizards he caught while here. Isn’t the tiny one about as cute as a critter can get?


Surprisingly, they don’t mind being held. Evidently they like the warmth.

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Lizards occasionally fall into ornamental pots and can’t get out, so I’ve put “lizard ladders” in them—a stick that extends to the rim. It’s as much for my benefit as theirs. I don’t enjoy disposing of stiff lizards.


Blue bellies are active in the warm months and hibernate in winter. They breed in the spring of their second year. Females lay clutches of eight or so eggs, which hatch in summer.

IMG_1555annotated_resized Males are territorial, which puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? What I consider “my” garden is actually theirs.

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
6 comments… add one

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Gail Klein August 6, 2015, 2:33 am

That is Just Great. Thanks for the unexpected and Interesting slide show.

Katherine c August 6, 2015, 8:18 am

So cute!!!!

Tony Soares August 6, 2015, 3:22 pm

Wonderful post, brought Back some wonderful childhood memories, thank you.

joan carroll, mg. retired August 7, 2015, 9:43 am

What a nice reminder of a former garden with blue-bellied
lizards. They used to keep me amused in my San Fernando
valley garden. Too hot where I live now in desert area above
palm springs.

Katie Young (Gardening Succs) August 7, 2015, 10:34 am

I love this post! What beautiful pics of the critters. (Did you let them go post-terrarium time? I hope so!) As a kid, I had a wounded alligator lizard named Houdini. He had three legs and a couple of missing toes on the other leg, so survival in the wild wasn’t much of an option for him. He lived for years and years in a tank in my bedroom: hiding in the sand, eating crickets, and hanging out on my arm or my shoulder while I did schoolwork. He was such a good little buddy. Thanks for reminding me how awesome lizards are. 🙂

Sally August 7, 2015, 3:48 pm

Also the western fence lizard helps reduce lyme disease. The tick nymphs feed on the blood of the lizard and that in turn destroys the lyme disease in the tick.

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