Desert Iguana

Photo by Stephanie Smith, May 16, 2010, 30 feet from the house. Very fast, about a foot head-to-tail. We see this guy regularly.

More info: desert iguana


About jay babcock

JT Homesteader, Arthur Magazine ... Joshua Tree, CA ...
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4 Responses to Desert Iguana

  1. Walter says:

    Western whiptail. If this animal lives near you, it may be interesting to spend some time to watch how it will make the rounds of its territory.

  2. Jeff says:

    Sorry Walter, et al, but that is a Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis). It’s not even a close question. Whiptails can be about that long but their bodies are much more slender and streamline. Their heads are longer and more angular with pronounced large glossy scales and they lack the characteristic facial “look” of the Iguanids (different families). Their tails are very long, even proportionally longer with respect to their snout-vent length than the Desert Iguana pictured. Their bodies and tails usually feature a much darker coloration as well, usually some combination of stripes and/or spots with a brown to toffee colored background, and their tails look much “rougher” even at a distance because the scales are keeled. Behaviorally they are very different, often out and active in hotter temperatures than other reptiles. They often move in quick jerky movements even when moving slowly and if threatened they will run at high speed. Desert Iguanas are much more mellow and will scurry for cover but don’t run like Whiptails (genus Cnemidophorus), and are orders of magnitude more approachable and easy to catch.

  3. Jeff says:

    I see you changed the post’s title from Western Whiptail to Desert Iguana or Western Whiptail? after my post. If the picture isn’t self-evident by comparing your photo to any number of reputable field guides (apparently you don’t own a field guide…Peterson’s was the herpetologist’s go-to guide for some time; that may have changed, but I doubt it), I have a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and one of my specialty classes was rigorous upper level Herpetology class, which involved extensive travel and fieldwork throughout the state of Arizona. Having caught, weighed, measured, and documented dozens of individuals from both species, genera, and families, and having seen them many times in the field over the course of the last two decades or so, I can tell you unequivocally and with expertise that the specimen pictured is a Desert Iguana.

    • jay babcock says:

      Jeff- We’ve been seeing those guys in the following weeks—see the more recent posts—and had long ago concluded that you were right! Just hadn’t changed this old entry yet. Thanks

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