Cophosaurus texanus

Greater earless lizard

Jane Leighton MacNeil


What It's Like to be a Greater Earless Lizard

It all begins when my mom lays an egg with me nestled inside somewhere in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The land is hot and dry with little vegetation. Her favorite spot is at a higher elevation with lots of loose gravel and sand, like the foothills of the Organ Mountains. I stay there for 50 days until I hatch out of my shell along with 1 to 8 other siblings, depending on the size of her clutch. By then mom is long gone, so we scurry down into the sand to stay safe and warm. Our preferred body temperature is 101.5ºF, which is higher than most other lizards whose temperatures run between 80 and 95ºF. Hot, hot, hot is what I like a lot, lot, lot. 


I am male about 2 inches long with light brown scales. I like being this color because it camouflages me from any hungry predators that might be lurking nearby. In a few months, my body color will change. My backside will turn grayish-brown with orange, yellow, and white specks so I still remain invisible in sand and gravel. However, on my underside, there will be two parallel black stripes just in front of my hind legs. In this area my scales will turn a bluish-green while underneath my tail will be white with six black stripes. During mating season my bluish-green scales will turn even brighter so I appear more attractive to lady lizards. As for my sisters, in several months their colors will change too, but they will be more muted than mine and will have only one black stripe on their underside. From April to August, the breeding season, the females’ throats will turn pink and their undersides bright orange. As we dash across the sands, we try hard to hide our bands.


I grow to be 3 to 7 inches from the top of my head to the tip of my tail. My forelegs are shorter than my hind legs, and I have long toes and claws. My most unique feature is my lack of ear canals, which is how I got to be named the Greater Earless Lizard (also because I am larger than my cousin, the Earless Lizard). Scientists call me Cophosaurus texanus because in Greek “copho” means deaf and “saurus” means lizard. They gave me the species name “texanus” because I can be found in Texas, but I am neither deaf, nor, for that matter, is Texas the only place I live. Having no external ear openings does not keep me from detecting sounds through deep vibrations. However, it does mean I never have to worry about getting any grit in my ears when I burrow into the sand. I am energetic, agile, and an amazingly fast runner. My vision is very sharp, and I can detect motion up to ¼ mile away. I also have a good sense of smell and use chemical substances inside my body called pheromones to attract or deter other lizards. When your vision is as good as mine, hearing doesn’t need to be so fine.


I eat a wide variety of arthropods including butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, bees, ants, and spiders. I am diurnal, which means I am active in the daytime and sleep at night. After an early-morning forage to fill my belly with the insects I like, I spend the rest of my day basking in the sun. If it becomes too hot (over 111ºF), I seek out a tree to climb to get off of the blistering ground or slip into a rock crevice where it is shady. At night, when the desert cools down, I burrow under a warm blanket of sand to rest. Because my body temperature needs to stay so high, I hibernate in the fall and winter when it gets too cold even in the sunshine. Summer weather is when I’m around; winter weather finds me underground.


If I’m lucky, I live to be 3 years old. The reason my life span is so short is because I either fail to stay hidden from predators or to keep warm during hibernation. The prey I fear most are Horned Rattlesnakes (also known as Sidewinders), Greater Roadrunners, and Common Nighthawks. If approached by one, I will wag my tail up over my head exposing the black and white stripes underneath. This lets predators know I have seen them and that the run is on, meaning they better have enough energy for a long chase since I can run very fast. Then, if they do get too close, they most likely will grab my wagging tail, which will simply break off, allowing me to get away and grow a new one. In this very clever way, I get to live one more day.


There is one other predator that I try to avoid at all costs. That is a human being who, out of curiosity, may want to capture and cage me. This is something I hope will never happen. You see, I can never be happy unless I get to stay in my natural habitat with others of my kind. Then, and only then, I enthusiastically proclaim, to be born a Greater Earless Lizard is my highest aim!




Jane Leighton MacNeil is a recent resident of Las Cruces, having spent the last 66 years living in Massachusetts. She and her husband love hiking in the Organ Mountains and find their majestic beauty to be as powerful as the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean.