Animal experts study unusual mating behavior of alligator lizard

With Valentines Day right around the corner, those who study the animal kingdom are exploring one of the more interesting mating rituals they've come across: that of the Southern Alligator Lizard.

"It's actually interesting because their mating season happens around Valentine's Day," said Katie Goldin, host of the podcast Creature Feature. "It's very romantic."

Goldin witnessed a recent display of the unusual behavior in Westwood, in which the male lizard takes the female by her neck, and clasps onto her neck with his mouth.

"It may look scary but it's a loving gesture. He's trying to court her."

Southern Alligator Lizards are quite common from Baja California all the way north to Washington state. They typically are between three and seven inches in length, and despite their appearance, really are not to be feared.

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"Alligator lizards are probably the single best lizard to have in your yard here in Southern California," said Greg Pauly at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. "It's a native lizard, and they eat just about every garden pest you can think of: snails, slugs, crickets, grasshoppers, they'll even eat brown and black widow spiders."

Pauly said in recent years they have more than 500 documented instances of the mating of Southern Alligator Lizards. Pauly said they tend to mate more often during wet seasons, and mating season typically begins in mid-February.

But what is unclear, said Pauly, is why they often stay in their unusual mating position for 24 to 48 hours.

"We don't know if that's because the male might be staying with the female to make sure no other males come along to mate with her, or whether it might be because of female choice."

Pauly said in our area they can often mate right out in the open: in the middle of the street, the sidewalk, a driveway or lawn.

As they continue to study their mating area, they are hoping crowdsourcing might help in the process. Anyone who captures videos or pictures of Southern Alligator Lizards in the process of mating is asked to email those images to NATURE@NHM.ORG.

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