Nature Notes

Volume XIX - 1953
Crater Lake Discovery Centennial

Lizard Adventures On Mt. Mazama
By Richard M. Brown, Assistant Park Naturalist

Shasta Alligator Lizard; tail regrows x 2/3. Photo by John Rowley, Ranger Naturalist.

Previous to the summer of 1948, our knowledge of the lizards in Crater Lake National Park was very scanty. The pigmy horned toad, Phrynosoma douglassi douglassi Bell, the northern alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus coeruleus principis Baird and Girard, and the Shasta alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus coeruleus shastensis Fitch, were the only ones that had ever been reported for the area (Vincent, 1947). It has just recently been determined that all of our alligator lizards are intermediate between these two subspecies, although the characteristics of the latter predominate (Farner and Kezer, 1953).

During the 1948 season, the first observations and collections of the Sierra pine lizard, Sceloporus graciosus gracilis Baird and Girard, were made inside park boundaries (Wood, 1952). The first Shasta alligator lizard was captured that same summer, along Copeland Creek (CLNP 44). Since that time, through 1951, no pine lizards and only two alligator lizards were collected, one near Park Headquarters (CLNP 313) and one on the summit of Union Peak (CLNP 360).

Several new discoveries were made in the summer of 1952 which provided additional records and specimens for the park. The first horned toad came into our collection (Farner and Kezer, 1952). An alligator lizard was found in a new locality, beside Vidae Falls (CLNP 558). One pine lizard (CLNP 526) was taken just inside the south boundary (Wood, 1952). These events of the early summer aroused much interest and enthusiasm on the part of Ranger Naturalist Robert C. Wood and myself in respect to lizards of the park. We were eager to find new places in which these creatures were living and, if possible, to turn up new species for the area.

On September 2, 1952, Robert Wood and I were driving along the northwestern part of the Rim Drive. Suddenly, near the Devil's Backbone, I spotted a large lizard right on the road. We stopped almost immediately, jumped out of the car and captured it with much excitement. Except for the Union Peak record, this was the highest point (ca. 7400 ft.) within the park in which a lizard had ever been seen! We brought our prize to Park Headquarters and added it to the collection (CLNP 570). It looked very similar to our pine lizards, although it was somewhat larger and rather differently colored and patterned, but time was so short before we were due to leave for the season that we were unable to try to identify it.

This summer we soon turned our attention to that unusual animal. Robert Wood tentatively classified it as a Pacific fence lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis Baird and Girard. Here was a new lizard for Crater Lake National Park! The specific identification has since been confirmed by Dr. Robert H. McCauley, Jr., who did his research in herpetology at Cornell University. He considered that this is probably the correct subspecies also, but he could not make positive determination from the preserved specimen. I wish to thank Dr. McCauley for this generous assistance, given so willingly during his brief visit to the park.

Our story now turns back to June 21, 1952, when Mr. and Mrs. Michael Harrison were camping in Castle Crags State Park, near Dunsmuir, California The following day, the Harrisons came to Crater Lake National Park to visit Ranger Naturalist Ralph Welles and his wife, Florence. Their visit lasted two days, during which time they enjoyed traveling the Rim Drive.

Early this season, Ranger Naturalist Beatrice Willard was chatting with Ralph and Florence. They mentioned, incidentally, that the Harrisons had discovered a lizard in the back of their car while stopped, on June 23, 1952, at a viewpoint along the Rim Drive near The Watchman. Little realizing the possible consequences, Gayle Harrison had put the lizard out of the car then and there. Beatrice, remembering that we were quite pleased with a new lizard which we had found the previous year, brought this significant bit of information to me. Another visit to the park by the Harrisons this year gave me an opportunity to learn that their lizard had probably been picked up during their 1952 stay in Castle Crags State Park.

Now, to be sure, we have no way of knowing whether or not their lizard and ours are one and the same. But it is interesting to note that more than two months elapsed from the time at which Gayle released a lizard near The Watchman and the day on which we found ours near Devil's Backbone. This is surely time enough for a lizard to travel the distance of approximately two miles between these points.

Sierra Pine Lizard x 2/3. Photo by John Rowley, Ranger Naturalist.

This story would be a most remarkable series of coincidences if these two lizards should actually be the same individual. Such a possibility is increased by the fact that no lizard of this kind has ever been found in the park before. In addition, Castle Crags State Park is nearly in the center of the natural range of the Pacific fence lizard (Smith, 1946)! Here, at least, is an excellent example of the care which must be taken in announcing the discovery of a new species in an area and especially in a National Park, which receives a great number of travelers from a wide range of places.

To report at this time that the Pacific fence lizard occurs naturally in Crater Lake National Park would be unjustifiable. Several additional records would be required before we could be reasonably certain that such lizards had not been released by one or more of the many thousands of visitors who come here each year. This is made even more significant by the fact that the Pacific fence lizard, although it occurs natively here in Klamath County, is known only from the Sonoran and Transition zones, (Anderson and Slater, 1941). Our specimen , would therefore be completely out of place where it was found on the Rim Drive. That spot is in the Hudsonian zone (Wynd, 1941), a long jump from the natural habitat of this lizard.

This season I have found and collected, with Robert Wood's assistance, several Sierra pine lizards in various new localities. These were taken in the South Entrance utility area (CLNP 571, CLNP 572), about one mile north of there along the highway (CLNP 573) and on the Wineglass (CLNP 588, CLNP 594). This last location is particularly interesting because of its elevation (ca. 6450 ft.), the highest place in which the pine lizard has been collected within the park, and because of the plants growing there. In this area are found ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa Dougl., and green manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula Greene; which otherwise grow at much lower altitudes in the park.

These plants are typical of the Transition zone, the natural habitat of the pine lizard. I suggest that this part of the rim wall is supporting a relict Transition zone community. The Wineglass area is located on the northeastern part of the rim, which there receives the greatest amount of sunlight and would be the most favorable section of the rim wall for such a community. This possibility is strengthened by the work of Hansen (1947), who has found that ponderosa pine ("yellow pine") forest had reached a maximum in the Mt. Mazama area at the time now established for the collapse of that mountain - - about 6450 years ago. This is probably the type of vegetation that would have reforested Mt. Mazama, at least as high as its new rim, upon the return of conditions permitting tree growth. Thus, a Transition zone community may have persisted to the present time in this isolated area within the rim, high on the mountain where the Hudsonian zone now prevails.

Another discovery for this summer was made when I found a colony of alligator lizards in the talus slope at the southern edge of the rock quarry 0.9 miles north of Cold Spring Campground, giving us an additional location for this elusive animal. Three of these have been added to our collection (CLNP 587, CLNP 592, CLNP 593).

Here are the most unusual and important experiences that we have had this summer in our seeking out and finding the evasive lizard. Perhaps another year of exploration will provide us with even more fascinating adventures.

Now and then surprises seem to come more suddenly and unexpectedly than is believable. Less than two hours after I had finished writing this article, Assistant Chief Ranger James W. B. Packard telephoned Park Naturalist Harry C. Parker to tell him that he had found a lizard on the back steps of the Packard residence at Annie Spring junction. It turned out to be one more alligator lizard (CLNP 595) and one more new location for this interesting creature.


Anderson, Oscar I. and James R. Slater. 1941. Life zone distributions of the Oregon reptiles. College of Puget Sound, Dept. Biol., Occ. Pap. 15: 109 - 119.

Farner, Donald S. and James Kezer. 1952. A new horned toad record for Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake Nature Notes 18:22-23.

-----. 1953. Notes on the amphibians and reptiles of Crater Lake National Park. Amer. Midl. Nat. 50(2):448-462.

Hansen, Henry P. 1947. Postglacial forest succession, climate, and chronology in the Pacific Northwest. Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. 37 (1):1-130.

Schmidt, Karl P. 1953. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles (6th ed.). University of Chicago Press, Chicago, viii, 280 pp.

Smith, Hobart M. 1946. Handbook of Lizards. Comstock Publishing Co., Ithaca. xxi, 557 pp.

Vincent, W. S. 1947. A check list of amphibians and reptiles of Crater Lake National Park. Nature Notes, Crater Lake National Park 13:19 - 22.

Wood, Robert C. 1952. The northern mountain lizard. Crater Lake Nature Notes 18: 17.

Wynd, F. Lyle. 1941 The botanical features of the life zones of Crater Lake National Park. Amer. Midl. Nat. 25(2):324-347.

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