Eastern Fence Lizard

Photo: Judy Gallagher

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Scientific Name:  Sceloporus undulatus

Classification:  Nongame

Abundance:  Common throughout most of the state (blue)

Species Profile (PDF)


Eastern fence lizard-juvenile (Photo by Jodie Owen)

The eastern fence lizard is one of North Carolina’s more conspicuous and familiar reptiles, deriving its common name from an earlier time when wooden fences were more common. Such structures are favored habitats for these quick and agile climbers, which are sometimes referred to by such names as “fence swifts,” “pine swifts” or “wood lizards.” A fence lizard’s dorsal coloration is usually gray, brown or bronze, usually with several narrow, dark, wavy crossbands, which are more conspicuous in females and juveniles. The belly is white or cream colored with scattered small black flecks. Adult males have patches of bright iridescent blue, greenish blue or bluish black on the throat and sides of the belly, sometimes covering the entire underside. These patterns are faint or lacking in females and juveniles. The scales are pointed and overlapping, and the dorsal scales are keeled, giving the lizard a rough or spiny appearance. It is the state’s only native lizard that appears rough or spiny, and it is identified easily on that basis.

Fence lizards occupy a variety of habitats but are most common in relatively dry, open woodlands of pines and hardwoods. They avoid very wet or heavily shaded habitats. They are highly arboreal and are frequently found on or near structures such as trees, logs, stumps, rock outcrops, buildings, and rock or brush piles. They are diurnal (active during the day) and often bask on sunny days, quickly dashing up a tree or beneath a sheltering object if disturbed.

Fence lizards are preyed upon by various snakes and carnivorous birds and mammals. They rely largely on camouflage and speed to escape predators. A captured individual may also bite or feign death, and, like all other native lizards, fence lizards have fractured planes in the vertebrae of their tails that can cause the tail to break easily if it is seized, often allowing the lizard a chance to escape. A broken tail will partially regenerate in time.

Learn more by reading the Eastern Fence Lizard species profile.

The eastern fence lizard is classified as a nongame species and has no open season. It is unlawful for any person to take, or have in possession, any nongame mammal or bird unless that person has a collection license or is collecting fewer than 5 reptiles or fewer than 25 amphibians that are not endangered, threatened, or special concerned species.

There are no reported problems with this species. Some people fear these completely harmless lizards, believing them to be poisonous, which they are not. Children may enjoy catching fence lizards, but they are not particularly easy to maintain in captivity and make less-than-ideal pets. They are best enjoyed in the wild, where they add life and personality to any woodland.