Critters: Collared lizards are ‘rock stars’ of Colorado National Monument |

Critters: Collared lizards are ‘rock stars’ of Colorado National Monument

This male collared lizard was photographed in Monument Canyon last month.
Donna King |

Editor’s note: “Critters” features insects, spiders, snakes and other freaky/fun creatures unique to the Grand Valley. You know, the kinds of critters you aim to keep your distance from, but love to learn about. Have a critter you want discussed? Email

The colorful collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), a species native to the Grand Valley, can often be found sunning itself in the lower elevations of Colorado National Monument, especially along No Thoroughfare Canyon’s lower trail.

“They are the rock stars of the monument,” Eric Sandstrom, a former CNM ranger and collared lizard enthusiast, said. “Other lizards tend to run away. (With collared lizards), you watch and notice them.”

Hard to miss, these green, black and yellow critters are known as “collared” due to two black stripes around the neck, Sandstrom noted. And being both cold-blooded and territorial, they won’t skitter off when confronted by people entering their domain. Rather, they stand their ground (on whichever rock they’re warming up on), often making for “some really great photos.”

According to local critters expert Bob Hammon, collared lizards — generally associated with slick-rock settings — “are surely striking, beautiful lizards, and they’re pretty widespread.”

As Colorado State University Extension’s western Colorado entomology source, Hammon said he sometimes encounters collared lizards when out on assignment.

Don’t try to pick one up, however. A collared lizard, which may grow up to 14 inches long, won’t hesitate to defend itself if threatened.

“It will bite and it will hang on,” Sandstrom said.


Collared lizards live in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

They run on their hind legs, using the tail to balance (much like a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur), and have been clocked running at 16 miles per hour.

They lay eggs.

If the tail is bitten off, it won’t regenerate like some other lizard species.

Males are more colorful than females.

Collared lizards are known to eat other small lizards and even mice.

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