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Iguanas Anoles and Relatives: Iguanidae

Common Chuckwalla (sauromalus Obesus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Chuckwallas are large, big-bellied lizards that can weigh up to 2 pounds (1 kilograms) and can reach a length of 16 inches (40.6 centimeters). They have a thick tail that is as long as the head and body together. The tail narrows to a blunt point at the end. Chuckwalla skin feels like sandpaper. There are folds of loose skin on the sides of the neck and body. Adult males have a black head, shoulders, and legs. The body color is red or gray, with yellow toward tail. Females and young have gray and yellow bands.

Geographic range: Chuckwallas are found in the United States.

Habitat: Chuckwallas live in rocky deserts with plenty of hiding places.

Chuckwallas are large, big-bellied lizards that can weigh up to 2 pounds (1 kilograms). (Wai Ping Wu/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Chuckwallas feed on leaves, flowers, and fruits.

Behavior and reproduction: The chuckwalla is cold-blooded; their body temperature changes with the environment. Chuckwallas spend cool desert nights in burrows, which tend to remain warm. In the morning, when the sun comes up, they come out of their burrows. To warm up, chuckwallas bask, or stretch out, in the sun. They place their bodies sidewise to the sun, to warm them up more quickly. They bask until they reach a temperature of 100°F (38°C). Then they begin searching for food. If the surrounding temperature becomes too hot, chuckwallas hide under rocks or bushes until the weather cools down.

When disturbed, the chuckwalla hides in a rock crevice. It begins gulping air. The loose skin folds around its neck and the sides of its body puff up, until the chuckwalla becomes larger. For the moment, it is jammed in the rock crevice, and this makes it almost impossible for a predator to pull it out. If, however, a predator does manage to grab a chuckwalla by the tail, the tail separates from the body and wriggles. This distracts the predator, letting the chuckwalla escape. A new tail grows back.

Chuckwallas make a combination of movements to defend a territory or attract a mate: head bobbing, open-mouth displays, and body pushups. In the summer, females place five to ten eggs in rock crevices. The eggs hatch two months later, in early fall.

Chuckwallas and people: Chuckwallas are sold in the pet trade and sometimes are eaten as food.

Conservation status: Chuckwallas are not threatened with extinction. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesIguanas Anoles and Relatives: Iguanidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Cape Spinytail Iguana (ctenosaura Hemilopha): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, IGUANIDS AND PEOPLE