Blog Post Jennifer Errick Feb 22, 2013

A Strong Recovery for the Island Night Lizard

What's three inches long, lives on a remote island, and was just removed from the Endangered Species List? Meet the island night lizard, a species unique to the Channel Islands, whose population has rebounded so significantly since 1977, as of this month, it no longer needs federal protection. 

This victory speaks both to the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act and the importance maintaining public lands such as national parks where threatened animals can recuperate in their natural habitats.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, most of the credit for the species’ successful recovery goes to a decision by the U.S. Navy and the Park Service to remove non-native pigs and goats from Santa Barbara, San Clemente, and San Nicholas Islands where the lizard lives (Santa Barbara Island is officially part of Channel Islands National Park; the other two islands are managed by the Navy). The invasive animals had degraded the lizards’ habitat, leading to the decline in their populations. After their removal, the lizards slowly but surely regained their footing. Now, more than 21 million of the reptiles live on San Clemente alone! (NPCA also fought successfully to remove non-native grazing animals from Channel Islands, though in a different region of the park. On Santa Rosa Island, a private hunting and cattle-grazing operation was also degrading habitat; the invasive species were finally completely removed by 2011.)

The island night lizard is one of 145 plant and animal species that live only on the Channel Islands and nowhere else on Earth. The lizard is also not the only threatened species to make a dramatic recovery at this park—the brown pelican and the island fox are two others that went from near-extinction to a healthy recovery.

A few interesting facts about the island night lizard, from the Park Service website:

  • Studies on Santa Barbara Island have shown that island night lizards are not nocturnal as their name suggests, and are actually most active at midday.
  • The island night lizard gives birth to live young (as opposed to laying eggs), which is not common among reptiles.
  • Island night lizards are slow growing and long-lived, some reaching 25 years of age.
  • During the course of their long lives, they accumulate many injuries, including regenerated tails, miscellaneous cuts, missing toes, eye injuries, infections, and the presence of cactus spines.
  • With their unusually low metabolic rate, the lizards do not have high energy demands and can live on about half the food that other similar-sized lizards require.

About the author

  • Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications

    Jennifer co-produces NPCA's podcast, The Secret Lives of Parks, and writes and edits a wide variety of online content. She has won multiple awards for her audio storytelling.