Hot rocks or no hot rocks: Overnight retreat availability and selection by a diurnal lizard

John Sabo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


I used radio telemetry to determine the effects of substrate size and composition on overnight retreat site selection by western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis). In watersheds of northern California (USA), these lizards occupy two habitat types differing in substrate characteristics: rocky cobble bars found in the dry, active channels of rivers and grassy upland meadows. Rocky substrates, found almost exclusively on cobble bars, provided warmer potential retreat sites than all available retreat sites on meadows during the first 5 h of inactivity. Only cobble and sand substrates provided retreats with temperatures within the preferred daily active range (32-36°C) during the inactive period for these lizards (1900-0900 hours). Females on a cobble bar used rocks as retreats on >90% of nights during the breeding season whereas females on a meadow used wood (>70% of nights) and burrows (>25% of nights). In contrast to females, cobble bar males used rocks significantly less frequently (<70%) and slept in the open air significantly more frequently (25% vs. <1%). Cobble bar females further, showed a significant preference for cobbles 15 cm thick, whereas the rocks used by males did not differ significantly in thickness from those measured in randomly placed transects. Rocks 15 cm thick were the warmest retreats commonly available on this habitat type. Thus, thermal microenvironments available to and chosen by gravid female lizards differ considerably between river and non-river habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-335
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • Habitat selection
  • Retreat site
  • Riparian
  • Sceloporus occidentalis
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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