Spot-tailed earless lizard  Holbrookia lacerata
ESA status: petitioned for listing

Spot-tailed earless lizard

In central and southern Texas, in open meadows or prairie savannah with low grass and shrubs and patches of bare ground, lives an unusual creature – the spot-tailed earless lizard. This distinctive lizard has rounded dark spots under its tail, differentiating it from other earless lizards. Despite its name, the spot-tailed earless lizard can hear you and will skitter off if you come too close.  It has ears, but no external ear openings. This is an advantage when burrowing in the soil and under logs and other debris, as the lizard likes to do. By covering its ears it keeps them clean and dirt-free. They lay their eggs underground, laying two batches in the spring and summer months.

The spot-tailed earless lizard eats small invertebrates, including ants.  But recently the tables have turned:  the red fire ant, a voracious invasive species, can swarm and overwhelm not only the hapless earless lizard but also turtles, snakes, and alligators. Fire ant abundance increases when native habitat is disturbed; conversion of the lizard’s habitat to cropland and non-native grasses for livestock is thus doubly threatening.  But the lizard’s biggest concern is agricultural pesticides and herbicides. Pollutants like these are likely a threat to reptiles around the world. For example, Carbaryl – among the most widely used pesticides in the United States –negatively affects locomotion, energy use, and overall fitness of terrestrial lizards. Atrazine, another popular pesticide, is believed to be an endocrine disruptor in reptiles.

The spot-tailed earless lizard historically ranged from Comanche County, Oklahoma, across central and southern Texas and down through the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, but today it has disappeared from Oklahoma and is rarely seen in the rest of its range. WildEarth Guardians is pressing the federal government to list the spot-tailed earless lizard under the Endangered Species Act and is working tirelessly to make sure we don’t lose these small denizens of the grasslands.

photo credit: Wayne Van Devender