A large lizard species hangs on for survival among the often-sizzling desert and shrublands in San Joaquin Valley of California. In addition to the usual threats of expanding human development and pollution, these endangered reptiles are also facing significant challenges caused by climate warming.
Protected by both Federal and California Endangered Species Acts, the smaller relative of the iguana is on a steady decline toward extinction. Conservationists are scrambling to learn more about their ecology and critical habitat in efforts to protect the dwindling population. Conservation detection dogs have recently joined biologists to help locate and protect the elusive blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia silus).
Once believed to roam most of the Southern California interior lowlands, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard now only exists within the San Joaquin Valley scrublands. Measuring 3.5-4.5 inches long and weighing up to 1.5 ounces, this collared lizard is relatively large for North America. A voracious insectivore, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard controls the grasshopper, wasp, and beetle populations of the desert landscape. It will occasionally eat smaller lizards as well, using a leaping span of two feet to easily capture its chosen prey.
When not hunting, the lizards seek shelter from the sun and predators by entering subterranean burrows made by ground squirrels or kangaroo mice. Studies have shown the lizards are only active above ground when the surface soil temperature is between 72-97 F, which greatly complicates monitoring them for management.
Destruction of their habitat caused by human development, off-road recreation, and agricultural practices is the leading threat to blunt-nosed leopard lizards. Invasive weeds have complicated their restoration, as well. Plus, new research conducted by Cal Poly proved the lizards have less time each day to be active due to escalating temperatures caused by climate change. The average temperature of the San Joaquin Valley has risen some 6 degrees over the past 27 years, which forces lizards to seek shelter more than in the past, decreasing time for hunting and therefore hindering their survival.
Check out how dogs can detect these lizards in the rest of the blog!