A Helping Hand

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Some people call them mountain boomers and others think of them as miniature dinosaurs. Of the 13 kinds of lizards native to Missouri, eastern collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) seem to generate the most interest. In fact, their population decline and unique habitat have inspired Missouri's wildlife managers to give them a helping hand.

Collared lizards are distant relatives to iguanas and a variety of lizards that live throughout much of the United States, Mexico and Central America. Their name comes from the fact that both males and females have two dark bars right behind the head that look like a collar.

During their spring breeding season, male collared lizards are brightly colored, having green legs, sides and tail, bright yellow spots on their sides, yellow feet and a bright orange throat and chin. Females are tan and brown with a black collar and, while they are developing eggs, have large orange spots on their sides.

Young collared lizards are light tan with many dark bands and spots. Male collared lizards can grow up to 14 inches in total length and are more colorful than females, which grow to about 12 inches in total length. Collared lizards have the unusual ability to run on their hind legs for short distances to escape predators or intruders. No other Missouri species of lizard has this ability.

Missouri happens to be the eastern edge of the eastern collared lizard's range, which includes much of the southwestern United States and most of northern Mexico. Collared lizards require dry, open and rocky habitats that, in Missouri, are a part of the Ozark landscape we call glades. These dry, open and rocky hilltops and south- or southwest-facing hillsides are similar to rocky habitats found in west Texas or southern Arizona.

Missouri's glades are home to a variety of prairie or near-desert plants and animals, including collared lizards and prickly pear cactus.

In the past 20 years Conservation Department land managers have had a particular interest in glades. A combination of inventories and research have revealed that many glades in the Missouri Ozarks have nearly disappeared, along with their unique plants and animals.

Glades are similar to native prairies and savanna communities in that they must have periodic fire to keep them from being overtaken by trees. Prior to European settlement, glades were likely burned every few years by lightning or fires set by American Indians. A lack of these fires can quickly result in

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