Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Alligator Lizard

Elgaria and Gerrhonotus

©1997, 2001 Melissa Kaplan


The 67 species of alligator lizards range throughout the world. The ones common to North America, Elgaria and Gerrhonotus, includes 8 species ranging from southern Canada down through Central America.

Members of the family Anguidae (and thus related to the Old and New World legless lizards), they look similar to the Gerrhosaurus, the plated lizards in the family Cordylidae, native to southern and eastern Africa. The different species range through a variety of habitats, generally frequenting moist areas of foothills and mountains, but also found ranging down into the drier grasslands, staying near rivers and streams. Secretive in nature, they hide under windfall, undergrowth, and in rocky crevices. Pugnacious when caught, they will thrash around, often delivering a painful bite.

Alligator lizards sport a flat, wedge-shaped head. There is little neck definition, with the body about the same width as the head. The legs are small, thin, and end in five fine toes. Notable is a distinct lateral fold running along their lower sides from the corner of their mouth to their tail. Their scales are large, slightly keeled, and shingled. Ground color is pale to medium brown with darker crossbands. They shed in one piece, like a snake.


Captive Habitat
Keep in a semi-moist terrarium with ample low climbing facilities and hiding places. Potting soil lightened with cypress mulch or orchid bark, with scattered coverings of sphagnum moss and plants, bark slabs and branches. Keep one area of substrate damp. Provide water bowl easy for lizard to get in and out of.

Daytime temperatures should range from 70-80 F (21-26 C), with a basking area of 85-90 F (29-32 C). Nighttime temperatures should drop to 65-75 F (18-24 C). UVB lighting required, or regular access to unfiltered sunlight.


Insectivores, they feed mainly on arthropods, snails, and occasionally eggs. In captivity, larger animals may feed on mice. Diet must be supplemented with multivitamins and calcium.


Most species are egg layers, with females guarding their eggs. G. coeruleus (Northern Alligator lizard) and some montane species are ovoviviparous.



Elgaria coerulea (formerly Gerrhontus coeruleus) Northern Alligator Lizard.
Northwestern US to southwestern Cananda. Four subspecies. To 14 inches (35 cm). Tail almost twice snout-vent length. Olive brown with dark broken, spotty bands. Abdomen with indistinct dark longitudinal striping between scales. Ovoviviparous, with 2-15 young, born June-Sept.. Primary habitat includes woodland and forest, but ranges into grasslands and sagebrush habitats. Perfers cooler and damper habitats than the Southern Alligator Lizard. Eats insects, millipedes, ticks, spiders, and snails.

Elgaria kingii (formerly Gerrhontus kingi) King's Alligator Lizard; Madrean Alligator Lizard.
Arizona through northern Mexico. To 18 inches (45 cm). Gray-olive with wide brown crossbands, black-edged posteriorly. Oviparous, laying 9-15 eggs in June-July. Primarily a montane speices, frequents chaparral, oak woodlands, and pine-fir forests in rocky places near permanent or seasonal streams. May also be found near drainage ways in deserts and grasslands. Partially nocturnal. Eats insects, scorpions.

Elgaria multicarinata (formerly Gerrhontus multicarinata) Southern Alligator Lizard.
Coastal North America, from Washington to Baja. Three subspecies. To 20 inches (50 cm). Shades of brown with black crossbands, white edged posteriorly. Ventral scales with indistinct dark lines on scale rows. Male head broader than female. Oviparous, laying 1-3 clutches of 5-20 eggs in May-July. Inhabits grasslands, chaparral, oak woodland, and open pine forest. Partly nocturnal during warmest part of the year. Diet includes slugs, scorpions, centipedes, insects, and spiders, including black widows; will also eat small lizards and mammals. May climb bushes and trees in search of prey, including bird eggs and chicks.

Elgaria panamintina (tormerly Gerrhontus panamintus) Panamint Alligator Lizard (Protected Species)
Very localized to Inyo and Mono Counties, California. To 18 inches (45 cm)? Light yellow or beige with broad brown crossbands. Ventral markings may form longitudinal stripes down center of scale rows. Male head broader, more triangular, than female. Thought to be oviparous. Ranges through scrub desert and Joshua Tree zone into the pinion-juniper belt. Eats insects, arthropods.

Other species
You can look up information on the following species at the TIGR Reptile Database's section on Anguidae:

Elgaria parva
Elgaria paucicarinata
Gerrhonotus liocephalus
Gerrhonotus liocephalus infernalis
Texas Alligator Lizard
Gerrhonotus lugoi


Feldner, Jerry, 2001. Personal communcation.

Mattison, Chris 1992. The Care of Reptiles and Amphibians In Captivity. Blandford Press, London. 306 p.

Obst, F.J., Richter, Dr. K., Jacob, Dr. U. 1988. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ. 815 p.

Stebbins, Robert C. 1985. Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA. 322 p.

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