Southern alligator lizards are native to the Pacific coast of North America. They have a round thick body with small legs and a long somewhat prehensile tail that can be twice as long as the lizard's body. Like many lizards, this species can drop its tail if attacked. The color of Southern alligator lizards is variable and can be brown, gray, green, or yellowish above, often with red blotches in the middle of the back. Usually, there are between 9 and 13 dark crossbands on the back, sides, and tail, with adjacent white spots. These crossbands can be pronounced or covered with a reddish or yellowish color. The scales of Southern alligator lizards are keeled on the back, sides, and legs. There is a band of smaller granular scales that separates the larger scales on the back and stomach, creating a fold along each side of the animal. These folds allow the body to expand to hold food or eggs.
Southern alligator lizards range from Baja California to the state of Washington. They live in a variety of habitats including grassland, open forest, chaparral, suburban and urban areas, and even into the desert along the Mojave River. These lizards are particularly common in foothill oak woodlands and are often found hiding under rocks, logs, or other surface covers. In dry climates, they are likely to be found in moist areas or near streams.
Southern alligator lizards are secretive and solitary creatures. They are diurnal and usually do their hunting in the mornings and evenings. The rest time is spent hiding under rocks, logs or in the brush. During cold winter months, they hibernate in underground burrows or in rock crevices and emerge only in the early spring. Southern alligator lizards are notable for their vicious self-defense and will bite and defecate if handled.
Southern alligator lizards mate in spring, typically from April to May. However, in warmer regions, they will breed year-round. Eggs are usually laid between May and June and hatch during late summer and early fall. Females lay two clutches of eggs per year consisting of 5 to 20 eggs, often in decaying wood or plant matter to keep them warm. Females will guard the eggs until they hatch. Young Southern alligator lizards become reproductively mature when they are 18 months old.
Southern alligator lizards don't face any major threats at present. Locally some populations suffer from commercial and residential development but these declines don't pose a significant threat to this species.
According to IUCN, the Southern alligator lizard is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.