Reptiles and Amphibians of Baja

Baja California’s rugged and remote terrain has made it a fascinating biological frontier. Indeed, many of its endemic species of herpetofauna are uniquely adapted to the harsh environment. Through peninsular evolution, the amphibians and reptiles of Baja California have acclimated themselves with intriguing defense mechanisms and survival techniques. Visually arresting and yet daunting, these creatures have absorbed many of Baja California’s most fascinating traits.

REPTILES

BAJA CALIFORNIA BRUSH LIZARD

These lizards can reach up to two inches long and tend to be grey, sooty, or brown. The males are a bit more easy to spot, though, with their black tails and blue bellies. Their long tales are easily detachable, too; much like a chicken with its head cut off, the tails can continue to wriggle around after disconnected which can distract any predators.

The Baja California Brush Lizard enjoy’s Baja’s thornscrub, and it often perches on the surrounding rocks and flora to enjoy the sun. Unlike some of Baja’s other reptiles, this lizard has not adapted any defensive measures against predators, and simply retreats to underground areas when feeling threatened.    

 

BAJA CALIFORNIA LEGLESS LIZARD

The first thought that comes to mind when hearing the term “legless lizard” is often, “isn’t that just a snake?” And it’s true, this legless lizard does resemble a snake in appearance. The difference comes down to how the two species evolved into their leg-lessness over time. Although the average viewer might think “snake,” this unique reptile has its own taxonomy.

The Baja California Legless Lizard has some unique traits from snakes as well, including its ability to move its eyelids which allows it to blink unlike their other slithery friends. Also, these lizards don’t have the ability to open their jaws to eat something larger than their own head. Their size is relatively unthreatening at 10-16.5 centimeters in length, but this handicap means the mice of Baja are a bit safer. If you happen to see a snake-like creature with smooth scales that tend to be a silver-grey ranging to black, you might be looking at Baja’s own legless lizard.

 

SAN LUCAN LEAF-TOED GECKO

These geckos are a tie-dyed beauty with opalescent colors. With almost translucent bodies that blend like a watercolor from pink tones to blue with tiger-esque blotches down their body, they look ethereal and delicate. If you see one, you might find they look more suited to being a design on a Lisa Frank folder, but you can find them in the dryer climates of the Islas Partida Sur, Ballena, Gallina, Cerralvo, Espiritu Santo, and Gallo. 

 

AMPHIBIANS

BAJA CALIFORNIA CHORUS FROG

These frogs have been known under the name of Pacific Chorus Frog for many years until 2006, until a taxonomic split was accepted. In the scientific world, this taxonomic revision has been controversial, but the frogs themselves still enjoy Baja California as well as the Catalina Islands and Channel Islands. These treefrogs fall short of two inches and are green, dark grey, or brown with a cream underside. You can determine if a treefrog is a Baja California treefrog by its dark brown or black colored band that traverses its body from its eyes to shoulders and underbelly. That being said, these frogs are known to change their color based on the temperature as well as humidity factors. This also helps protect them from predators.

This species has adapted to a wide range of habitats. Outside of their breeding season, they are often far from water and living in forests, woodlands, desert streams, and even urban areas. Their sticky pads on their toes help them climb rocks and trees for protection.

FUN FACT:

In the west, treefrogs are the only frogs to make the classic “ribbet” sound familiarized with the public through movies. While most frogs often create music in the spring, treefrogs have the ability to vocalize their chorus of ribbets throughout the year unless the temperatures are below freezing. The treefrogs can coordinate their vocalizations to create a chorus—thus their name. One male frog can act as a form of “chorus master” as he begins his ribbet calling, and other males nearby join in for some harmony.

 

CANYON TREEFROG

 This frog can be hard to find as it is relatively small and grows to about 2.2 inches. Its large toe pads are adhesive to aid in climbing various surfaces, and its gray, tan, or olive skin is rough and usually spotted or blotchy.

 The Canyon Treefrog, as the name implies, enjoy to find their home in canyons and arroyos. In particular, they enjoy habitats comprised of rocky stream courses. You can often find them in the foothills or higher in the mountains where oak, chaparral, and mixed conifer woodlands are more likely to be found.

If you’re hoping to spot some, you can often find them near water on warmer evenings or collecting together on rock crevices on faces during the day. It’s not uncommon to find several of these treefrogs gathered together on rock surfaces such as granite boulders where they are camouflaged from predators, and they often perch in the same location for several days.

 

PLATEAU TOAD

These small toads only reach 6-8 centimeters. Found in the Sierra Madre and endemic to Baja California, these small creatures enjoy freshwater habitats as well as scrubland. 

 

COAST HORNED LIZARD

While the Coast Horned Lizard, otherwise called Blainville’s Horned Lizard, at first appears to have spiky, coarse skin, it actually has smooth-skin with frequent sharp spikes protruding along its head, back, and sides. For a lizard, it can be rather large and can grow up to four inches long (not including its tail). You can distinguish this lizard from other horned lizards by its more slender body as well as the two dark spots that lie behind its head. They can be found along Californias Pacific Coast to the tip of the peninsula. They enjoy a range of habitats, from foothills and mountains to inland valleys, coniferous forests and oak-filled woodlands. They have been added to the California Species of Special Concern list due to their population depletion caused by habitat destruction. 

FUN FACT:

As a biological defense measure, the Coast Horned Lizard can shoot highly pressurized streams of blood out of its eyes if threatened.