“There it is!”, I exclaimed as the brakes pounded down against the floorboard. A large lizard basking itself near the top of a lichen-encrusted boulder. Large by lizard standards (~8 inches) and thickly bodied, it was much more so than I had expected. Overjoyed to finally find this reptilian, the Western Fence Lizard, a sense of content relief come to me. This quick trip down a dusty road was my third attempt this summer to find this species. This lone lizard was a member of the only known population of the Western Fence Lizard in the state near Perma, Montana.
Western Fence Lizard was only discovered in Montana in 2001 by a student from the Salish-Kootenai Community College, who was conducting a biological survey. The scholarly ecological question soon bubbled to the surface among the dozen of folks who cared, “Where the hell did these lizards come from?” The nearest other known population occurs in eastern Washington, some 150 miles to the west of this stretch of the Flathead River. Does this population represent of long undiscovered remnant, isolated population, or is it a successful, although accidental, introduction? The introduction option is the least appealing to me, personally. The idea that a lizard fall off a truck as the vehicle rumbled down Highway 200, and its location of disembarkment just happened to be adjacent to the appropriate habitat seems too coincidental, however it is plausible. The romantic idea of an island population grabs my throughly unscientific desires for rarity. These lizards were possibly left stranded among the Belt formation boulder-strewn, arid hillsides of this area. They lost contact with others of their kind, and yet, they persisted.
A hazy memory of a lizard atop of fencepost near Plains comes to my mind. I was in the neighborhood of 6 or 7 years old. Maybe this was a Western Fence Lizard, or maybe not.