Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (Uma inornata)

Also known as: Coachella uma
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyPhrynosomatidae
GenusUma (1)
SizeSnout-vent length: up to 11.5 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard is a small, highly specialised reptile (3), suited to a life on continually shifting sands. The scaly fringes along the toes of the feet, after which this lizard is named, enable it to move with ease across and through sand, while thick, serrated eyelids prevent sand from getting in the eyes (2). Its body is covered with small, smooth scales, forming a striking pattern of black markings on a light grey or white background colour. This distinct network of black lines breaks up on the sides of the bodies and the limbs, where small, black spots speckle the greyish background instead The tail, which is typically longer than the body, is broad and flat (2).

Coachella Valley in Riverside County, California, is the only place you will find this fringe-toed lizard (2). It once had a range that covered just less than 700 square kilometres, but this has been reduced to about 130 square kilometres (3).

The Cochella Valley fringe-toed lizard has rather unique habitat requirements, occurring only on sand dunes and sandy flats (2) (4), from sea level up to elevations of about 490 metres (1). It requires loose sand in which to burrow and some vegetation for shelter and food (4).

The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard is well adapted to its sandy habitat, with the fringes on the feet providing not only fast movement over the sand, but enabling the lizard to effectively ‘swim’ through the sand as it buries deep to escape either the hottest parts of the day or predators (2). When not buried in sand, or sheltering in abandoned rodent burrows (4), the Coachella fringe-toed lizard may dash between patches of shade as it feeds on a diet consisting largely of insects, but also parts of succulent plants (2). The exact composition of the diet of this lizard has been observed to vary depending on the times of the year, with flowers and plant-dwelling arthropods being consumed in abundance during spring when many plants bloom, and then as these foods decline, more leaves, ants and ground arthropods being eaten (5). The hatchlings of other lizards are also sometimes eaten, as well as shed skin, which is believed to help the lizard conserve vital protein (5).

Between April and August, the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard lays clutches of two to four eggs, with hatchlings appearing between June and September. This lizard reaches sexual maturity at the age of two (4). Periods of drought are known to reduce reproduction in the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (4).

This Endangered reptile has been greatly affected by the loss of its very specific habitat. Human development and the invasion of exotic plant species have taken their toll on at least 80 percent of suitable habitat in the Coachella Valley, and the remaining portion has been fragmented by roads and railways (3) (4). Buildings and invasive plant species both stabilise the once free-moving sands, preventing the continual replenishment of loose sand on which the lizard relies (3).

The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard is listed as threatened in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, and as an endangered species by the State of California (3). In addition to this legislation, some of this lizard’s habitat receives much-needed protection. In 1985, the Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the fringe-toed lizard (3), followed by the creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve, which encompasses an additional area of lizard habitat adjacent to the Wildlife Refuge (6). Few lizards now exist outside of these protected areas (1), and thus the continued existence of this refuge and preserve are essential for the survival of this rare and unique reptile.

For further information on conservation in the Coachella Valley see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Smith, H.M. (1995) Handbook of Lizards: Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
  3. US Fish and Wildlife Service. (2000) Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Facts. US Fish and Wildlife Service, California. Available at:
    http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/e-resources/ebooks/records/eej1294-1.html
  4. NatureServe (August, 2008)
    http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Uma+inornata
  5. Durtsche, R.D. (1995) Foraging ecology of the fringe-toed lizard, Uma inornata, during periods of high and low food abundance. Copeia, 1995(4): 915 - 926.
  6. Coachella Valley Preserve (August, 2008)
    http://coachellavalleypreserve.org