Lizards That Fight Lyme Disease

One of the most common lizards in California, the western fence lizard, helps to battle Lyme disease.

Hiking in the Sierras or strolling along a vacant lot, you will likely encounter one of these spiny, granite-colored lizards doing vigorous pushups. Males have iridescent blue throats and bellies and pushups flash the bright color to court females or defend their territories from encroaching males.

These showy lizards provide more benefits to humans than just entertainment. A protein in their blood kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.Western black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) carry the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, in their guts, which they can transfer to a human after biting and remaining attached for 24 to 48 hours. But a tick that sucks the blood of a fence lizard is cleansed of Borrelia, and its bite reduced to nothing more than a nuisance.

Western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), commonly known as "blue-bellies," occur in a wide variety of habitats throughout California except for extreme desert environments. They can be found from sea level up to 9,000 feet in areas of broken canopy with rocks, fallen logs, or other structures like old buildings and woodpiles

 

 

Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Photo: California Academy of Sciences Special Collections; Jo-Ann Ordano

 

Sceloporus occidentalis
Photo: CAS Special Collections; Jens Vindum