Leopard lizards are alert, capable of Mach-1 speed and bipedal during evasive maneuvers. Opportunistic in habit, they are predators of the highest esteem and cannibalistic when hunger dictates. In a nutshell, they are replicas directly out of Jurassic Park.
As the common name implies, and with a bit of colorful imagination thrown in, members of the genus Gambelia somewhat resemble real leopards. But some, such as blunt-nosed (G. sila) and to a lesser degree Cope’s leopard lizards (G. copeii), definitely do not resemble their namesakes where pattern and color are concerned. However, they all practice similar leopardlike habits of stalking prey by “jumping” into the air to secure a worthwhile morsel. And when cornered and/or handled they show considerable malevolence — a well-placed bite by an adult leopard lizard is a painful encounter.
Range and Habitat
Four species of Gambelia (formerly Crotaphytus) have been described: Cope’s (Gambelia copeii), blunt-nosed (G. sila), long-nosed (G. wislizenii) and Lahontan Basin leopard lizards (G. w. maculosa). The latter is not mentioned as such by Stebbins (2003), but referred to by St. John (2002), who puts it perfectly when he writes: "Depending on the authority consulted …. "
Leopard lizards range over a large area of the United States, northern Mexico, much of the Baja Peninsula, plus several Pacific islands and Isla Tiburón (a large island in the northern part of Mexico’s Gulf of California). More specifically, they occur in all four major North American deserts (Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan) ranging from central Idaho in the north to Zacatecas, Mexico, in the south.
Stebbins (2003) states that they range from near sea level to around 6,000 feet. However, any specimens that may be roaming near the Salton Sea in California, or points farther south and southeast, would in fact be doing so below sea level. I found a specimen east of El Centro, California, which is 40 feet below sea level, in the early 1960s. It was more than likely living at or just below sea level. Pickwell (1972) pictures a long-nosed leopard lizard found in Death Valley (most of the valley floor is below sea level). So it is possible that Pickwell’s specimen was found at or below sea level too.
Because of this enormous range in elevation, leopard lizards frequent many different microhabitats. They avoid densely vegetated regions, however, because it interferes with their ability to give chase and efficiently subdue prey. Some of the plants found in Gambelia domain include creosote, sagebrush, greasewood, alkali bush, bunch grass, manzanita, live oak and flat-top buckwheat.
I don’t recommend Gambelia for the beginning hobbyist. But if you are interested, you shou...