Texas Spiny Lizard

Sceloporus olivaceous

Last updated: February 11, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit iStock.com/thomasmales

They hold push-up competitions!

Texas Spiny Lizard Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Phrynosomatidae
Genus
Sceloporus
Scientific Name
Sceloporus olivaceous

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Texas Spiny Lizard Conservation Status

Texas Spiny Lizard Locations

Texas Spiny Lizard Locations

Texas Spiny Lizard Facts

Prey
Beetles, wasps, grasshoppers
Name Of Young
Hatchling
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
They hold push-up competitions!
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Predators
Most Distinctive Feature
Blue patches on male’s belly
Other Name(s)
Tree lizard, fence lizard
Gestation Period
90 to 100 days
Litter Size
4 to 20
Habitat
Forests, scrublands, backyards
Predators
Snakes, raptors, weasels, lizards
Diet
Carnivore
Type
Reptile
Common Name
Texas spiny lizard
Number Of Species
10
Location
Mexico, U.S.
Group
Lounge

Texas Spiny Lizard Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Scales
Top Speed
35 mph
Lifespan
2 to 7 years
Height
2 inches
Length
8 to 12 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
1 year
Age of Weaning
At birth

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The Texas spiny lizard is a small reptile native to Mexico and the south-central region of the United States.

It prefers to live in mesquite trees and lowland areas that have heavy ground leaf cover. The spiny lizard is a common visitor to backyards and on fences in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona. With a slender body and long tail, this spiny visitor helps people keep bugs out of their yards and homes.

4 Fun Facts About the Texas Spiny Lizard

  • Male spiny lizards compete by doing push-ups.
  • Spiny lizard hatchlings can fend for themselves at birth.
  • The Texas spiny lizard’s preferred habitat is a mesquite tree.
  • If they lose their tails, they can regrow them.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Texas spiny lizard is Sceloporus olivaceus.

Texas Spiny Lizard Appearance

The Texas spiny lizard has large, clearly defined scales. It is usually a dark gray color with a light grey belly. It has long toes ending in sharp claws that are ideal for its life among the trees. The spiny lizard enjoys climbing trees and digging into rotted wood, so those claws come in handy.

Male and female spiny lizards look alike, with a few differences in colors. Males have small blue patches on their bellies that females don’t have.

Identification of a Texas spiny lizard

Since there are many lizards in the Southeastern U.S. and Mexico, use these clues for identification of a spiny lizard:


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  • Length of 8 to 12 inches
  • Black, white, or red colors on the back
  • Gray underside
  • Blue patches on males
A close up of Texas spiny lizard on a stone walkway in a Texas backyard.
A close-up of a Texas spiny lizard on a stone walkway in a Texas backyard.

iStock.com/Wytenite

Texas Spiny Lizard Behavior

Texas spiny lizards are diurnal hunters who spend most of their time in trees or hiding in leaf litter. During hot daylight hours, they often come out to bask in the sunshine on tree branches or fence posts. That’s why some people call them “tree lizards” or “fence lizards.”

They are shy and elusive, and it can be hard to see them. If a large animal enters their territory, they are more likely to run and hide than fight.

Male spiny lizards are territorial and will fight with other males for territory and females. When they fight, they square off against each other and compete by doing push-ups. Both males will do push-ups until one gives up and runs away.

Spiny lizards often use their tails to defend themselves from predators. If the predator grabs the tail, the tail will detach from the lizard’s body. This is a defensive mechanism known as automatization. The tail distracts the predator, and this gives the lizard time to run to safety. Later, the lizard will grow a new tail.

Male vs female fights do not occur among spiny lizards.

Hibernation

Texas spiny lizards hibernate in the winter. They begin their hibernation during the cold winter months. They use leaf litter and other ground covers to hide until the weather gets warm again. Many gardeners take advantage of this by placing leaf litter in their gardens to encourage spiny lizard hibernation. In the spring, the hungry lizards get busy eating insects in the garden.

Behavior around humans

Texas spiny lizards are a favorite among many Texans and others who appreciate their cute behavior and ability to gobble up insect pests. They do not bite and are not poisonous.

Texas Spiny Lizard Habitat

These lizards spend most of their time in trees. They prefer mesquite trees but will take up residence in any type of scrub vegetation. They look for areas with plenty of leaf litter, which supplies cover and a fertile hunting ground for insects. Typically, they can be found in shrubland, forests, and other areas with dense tree growth.

Their colors allow them to camouflage themselves against tree bark and leaf litter. These lizards prefer tropical, temperate climates with plenty of sunshine.

Texas Spiny Lizard Diet

Texas Spiny Lizards are carnivores that largely feed on small insects. They eat beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, and crickets.

Texas Spiny Lizard Predators and Threats

Like most lizards, these lizards can be prey for snakes, weasels, raptors, and larger lizards. The Texas spiny lizard does not face any current threats. It is a common lizard that has a healthy, stable population.

Texas Spiny Lizard Reproduction and Life Cycle

The spiny lizard’s breeding season happens during spring and summer. A female can have up to four clutches every year. Each clutch has from 4 to 20 eggs.

Gestation takes 90 to 100 days. When she’s ready to have the babies, she chooses a warm, dry spot in the ground. Once she chooses the right spot, she digs a small hole in the ground and backs up into it. She lays the eggs and covers them with soil.

The incubation period takes 43 to 83 days. The female does not return to the nest after depositing the eggs.

Young spiny lizard hatchlings are precocial, which means they are fully developed and able to live independently. They are 2 to 3 inches long at birth.

They have a lifespan of 2 to 5 years in the wild. Their lifespan in captivity is about 7 years.

Population

The exact population numbers of the spiny lizard are unknown, but the population is considered stable and healthy.

Conservation Status

These lizards are listed as “least concern” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Enjoy These Sun-Loving Visitors

These lizards are common visitors to trees, forests, and gardens. If you’re lucky, you may be able to watch a push-up competition right in your backyard.

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Texas Spiny Lizard FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Texas spiny lizards poisonous?

No, they are not poisonous.

Do Texas spiny lizards play dead?

No, they do not play dead. They hibernate in the winter, however.

Do Texas spiny lizards bite?

No, Texas spiny lizards do not bite humans. They are harmless to humans. Many people appreciate the way they control insect pests in their yards.

How do I get rid of Texas spiny lizards?

It’s not necessary to get rid of them. If you see them in your yard, enjoy these harmless, helpful critters who are there to eat unwanted bugs in your garden.

What do Texas spiny lizards eat?

They eat small insects. Their diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, blister beetles, June beetles, spiders, mites, and flies.

How do I catch a Texas spiny lizard?

These shy lizards can be difficult to catch because they are shy and elusive. They also have colors that provide excellent camouflage. One way to catch them is to set up a trap using cricket heads as bait.

How do I care for a Texas spiny lizard?

If you want to keep one as a pet, be sure you have a large enclosure that gets plenty of heat and sunlight. Learn the facts about proper reptile care before you get one.

The enclosure should be at least 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. To keep your pet lizard happy, be sure to provide

• Several tree branches for climbing and basking
• Leaf litter for a natural habitat
• Branches, vines, sticks, and logs
• Open area for running around
• One or two cooler hiding spots

To feed them, serve them crickets and other insects. Twice a week, dust the insects with a vitamin D and calcium supplement. They can eat worms, but don’t feed them mealworms.

How do I mate a Texas spiny lizard?

You can mate a Texas spiny lizard by placing a male and female together in an enclosure. You should be prepared to take care of their hatchlings when they come out.

What are the differences in male vs female spiny lizards?

The main male vs female difference is their colors. Identification of males is easy because only males have small blue patches on their bellies.

Sources
  1. University of Texas, Available here: https://biodiversity.utexas.edu/news/entry/backyard-biodiversity-texas-spiny-lizard
  2. Landmark Wildlife Management, Available here: https://landmarkwildlife.com/a-little-bit-about-the-texas-spiny-lizard/
  3. Learn About Nature, Available here: https://www.pet-lizard.com/texas-spiny-lizard.html

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