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Mojave River Valley Museum
Family: Iguanidae Order: Squamata Class: Reptilia
DISTRIBUTION, ABUNDANCE, AND SEASONALITY
Berry, K. H. 1974. The ecology and social behavior of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus obesus Baird. Univ. Calif. Publ. Zool. 101:1-60.
Johnson, C. R. 1965. An ecological study of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus Baird, in the western Mojave Desert. Am. Midl. Nat. 73:1-29.
Macey, J. R. and T. J. Papenfuss. 1991. Reptiles. Pages 291-360 in C.A. Hall, Jr., editor. Natural History of the White-Inyo Range eastern California. Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley, California. 536 pp.
Nagy, K. A. 1971. Seasonal metabolism of water, energy and electroytes in a field population of desert lizards, Saurmalus obesus. Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. California, Riverside.
Shaw, C. E. 1939. Food habits of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus. Herpetologica 1:153. Stebbins, R. C. 1954. Amphibians and reptiles of western North America. McGraw-Hill, New York. 536pp.
California Department of Fish and Game. California Interagency Wildlife Task Group. 2005.
Dick Schwenkmeyer - San Diego Museum of Natural History
Size: The stout-bodied chuckwalla is the second largest lizard in the United States, next in size only to the gila monster. A male individual can measure up to 18 inches in total length, while the female is somewhat smaller.
Coloration: The coloration of these lizards is geographically variable and also varies between juveniles and adults, in addition to males and females. In adult males, the head, shoulder, and pelvic regions are melanistic, while the mid-body is light beige or tan and occassionally speckled with brown flecks. The tail is off-white. Adult females are brownish in color with a scattering of dark brown and red spots. Young chuckwallas have four or five broad bands across the body, and three or four on the tail. These bands are usually lost in adulthood. Uniformly small scales cover the body, with larger scales protecting the ear openings.
Sauromalus is derived from Greek sauros, meaning lizard and omalus, homalus, meaning flat, in reference to the chuckwalla's flattened body shape. It lacks a mid-dorsal crest, and when compared to its closest relatives (the other iguanas), the low profile is obvious. The name ater means black. A previous scientific name used for the chuckwalla is Sauromalus obesus.
The name chuckwalla (or chuckawalla) is derived from the Shoshone word "tcaxxwal" or "caxwal," the form used by the Cahuilla Indians of southeastern California and originally written in Spanish as "chacahuala."
They are big and they look mean, but Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) are harmless herbivores feeding on desert flowers, fruits and leaves. Young chuckwallas are known to try a grasshopper or two, but stick entirely to plants by the time they are a year old. Chuckwallas obtain all their water from the plants they eat and never drink, even when water is readily available. Instead of urination to void their body of salts, these wastesare passed as crusty salts breaking up and falling out when the reptile exhales. They are adept at living in rocky areas under 4,000 feet elevation. As well as dodging into cracks of the rocks in which they live when threatened, they inflate themselves with air wedging into the crevices solidly, making it nearly impossible to remove them by brute strength.
Since the chuckwalla is a diurnal lizard, predators may also have to be active during the day time hours. The chuckwalla prefers rocky habitats, so predators would have to be able to negotiate and hunt in these conditions. Since the chuckwalla is the largest of the desert lizards, animals hunting adults would have to be of appropriate size. Younger, smaller, lizards have a greater amount of species to fear.
The chuckwalla is potential prey for:
Chuckwalla Picture Slideshow
"Often we see them waddling along, then suddenly leaping from rock to rock. in spite of their ungainly appearance, they move about with great speed -- in contrast to their profound patience while lying still. One that I found eating flowers in an encelia bush suddenly dropped down and took refuge in a rock crevice. It was more than an hour before it came forth and began feeding again."
Edmund C. Jaeger
-- Desert Wildlife