The southern alligator lizard has a long prehensile tail, up to twice the length of its body. Like many lizards, however, it can drop its tail if attacked, possibly giving it a chance to flee; the tail will regenerate, but will never be as long or richly colored as the original. Individuals with intact tails can reach up to about 50 cm in total length.
The lizards can frequently be found near human habitation and are notable for their fearless self-defense; they will often bite and defecate if handled. In the wild they eat small arthropods, slugs, lizards, small mammals and occasionally young birds and eggs. (Stebbins, 2003) They are not difficult to catch or keep in captivity, and make suitable and interesting pets. They will thrive and even breed if fed on small insects such as crickets supplemented with suitable vitamins and minerals.