Revealing the Lizards of Lumpy Ridge

At this year’s BioBlitz in Rocky Mountain National Park, NG Young Explorer Neil Losin set off on a mission to confirm the identity of a near-mythical beast. For years, visitors have reported sightings of a small lizard species, but its identity remained unknown. Early Friday morning, Neil set out to change that.

Climbing up Lumpy Ridge where some of the earlier sightings had been made, he brought his fishing pole fitted with a mini-lasso and a camera, and set out to catch some lizards. He was successful and the next day returned with more equipment and other photographers from the Meet Your Neighbors project to make a complete study of the critters, but was still unsure of their identity.

He recently wrote with this update, solving the mini-mystery for good:

“I got some confirmation of our lizards’ ID, thanks to some helpful herpetologists from Colorado University and the University of Northern Colorado. My initial identification was correct, in one sense — Sceloporus undulatus erythrocheilus *is* the designation used for this species in the most recent field guide to the herps of Colorado.

“The situation is a bit more complex, however.

“The taxonomy of Sceloporus has been revised substantially in the last 10 years, thanks mostly to the work of Adam Leache at the University of Washington. Dr. Leache’s taxonomy (which is based on DNA sequences, not just morphology) places S. u. erythrocheilus into its own species, called Sceloporus tristichus.

“Dr. Leache has confirmed to me that this is the most likely species in this area of Colorado. The accepted English name for S. tristichus is “plateau fence lizard”. So, that’s the name I’d use for any image captions or announcements: plateau fence lizard (Sceloporus tristichus).”

In the gallery above, get to know this beautiful little lizard for yourself.


Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.
  • krischan

    nice pics šŸ˜›

  • Lindsey

    It’s a blue belly! We have those all over here! šŸ˜€

  • Nicole

    We have lizards here that look almost exactly like that here, I see dozens of them every day in my backyard. They are so cute!

  • James

    Where i’m at we call the Fence Geckos or Oak Lizards. We have a bunch by my house, although i haven’t seen one in about a year or so now. I love trying to catch them because they are little speed demons.

  • Anthony J Francher

    I’m reading that alot of you have these where you live. But the cool thing about this article and an enjoyment to me, is that lumpy ridge is between 7,500-10,000ft elevation. That is extremely high living lizards, and it gets COLD here. Thanks Nat Geo!

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