Identification: Gray or tan with eight (more or less) jagged crossbars on its back. Tends to be darker in cooler weather and lighter in warmer weather.
Distribution: Arkansas, Oklahoma, large parts of Texas and Missouri, and contiguous area of several adjoining states.
Habitat: Woodland edges. The Prairie Lizard prefers spending most of its time up off the ground perched on rocks, logs, fence posts or up in a tree. From these elevated perches, it can bask, search for prey and watch for predators. During breeding season, males often do "push ups" to show off their bright breeding coloration to nearby females and to warn off rival males. Males with the best lookouts are known to have an advantage in successful breeding. (This particular lizard was basking on a tree branch at the edge of our garden in June, 2005)
Life Cycle: Breeding occurs throughout the spring and summer. Females lay 3 to a dozen or so eggs often in rotten logs or sawdust. Two egg clutches per year are normal.
Food: This species eats a wide variety of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates by either chasing them down or simply letting prey come within striking distance.
Comments: When I searched my photo archives looking for a suitable (i. e. easily identified) entry for my first participation in the House of Herps Blog Carnival, I thought this "fence lizard" was a good selection. However, as I began trying to pin down my ID and find additional material, I found a lot of conflicting information. Until relatively recently there was a large group of spiny lizards called Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) with numerous subspecies. Under that classification, the lizard in the photos above would have been a Northern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus). However, DNA analysis led to a reclassification of this species. The numerous subspecies became separate species and new common names were appended accordingly. A PDF describing the DNA analysis is here if you are inclined to wade through it.