10 Amazing Lizard Species Spotted in Arizona
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Arizona's hot, arid climate makes it the perfect environment for a variety of amazing reptiles! Its lizard population is particularly rich and diverse, with approximately 50 unique species calling the Copper State home. Here, we take a look at 10 of the most amazing lizard species in Arizona, from what they look like to their unique diets, preferred habitats and behaviors.
Read on to find out what makes these special lizards special and why they are one of the most fascinating animals in Arizona!
1. Gila Monster ( Heloderma suspectum)
Number one on our list of lizards in Arizona is the Gila Monster – one of the most visually unique and striking monsters in this selection. Its alternating black and bright orange stripes, bulky build, beaded scales, and large, broad head certainly make it easily recognizable. About 2 feet long when fully grown, it is also a large reptile.
This lizard has a fearsome reputation for its unique (mild) venomous nature, but despite this, it's not much of a threat to humans. In fact, it's the only native venomous lizard in the United States! Thankfully, the typical Gila Monster is extremely slow, reclusive, and more likely to flee than bite.
Interestingly, the Gila Monster gets its name from the Gila River valley in Arizona and New Mexico. While their numbers have dwindled over the years, it remains sizable throughout the dry, desert-like region.
2. Common Chuckwalla ( Sauromalus ater )
The common chuckwalla is another fairly large, easily recognizable lizard that occupies much of the southwestern United States. Its brown-gray body is broad and flat, with strong, muscular legs, perfect for digging in the surrounding dirt and brush. Juveniles usually have lighter colored stripes on their bodies and tails, but these tend to fade with age.
An adult chuckwalla averages about 18 to 20 inches long and weighs a respectable 1.5 to 2 pounds! Despite their ferocious appearance, they are mostly herbivorous! Although they occasionally eat insects, chuckwallas primarily feed on plants such as leaves, fruit, grasses, and flowers.
Arizona's hot, dry climate is actually perfect for chuckwalla. In fact, these hulking lizards have been known to remain active in temperatures as high as 102F!
3. Arizona Striped Whiptail ( Aspidoscelis arizonae )
Sadly, these tiny salamanders now have a fairly limited range in Arizona, and they were listed as endangered by the IUCN back in 2013.
However, if you're lucky enough to spot one, you're sure to be able to spot it easily! They are very recognizable reptiles thanks to their very long blue-tipped tails, narrow, pointed snouts, and alternating brown and yellow stripes that run vertically down their bodies. They average only a few inches long, and as their name suggests, most of their body length consists of a long, thin whip-like tail.
Where in Arizona are you likely to come across this lizard? In hot, dry bushes – like most of the lizards on this list. It is fast and extremely timid, preferring to run away and hide in dense bushes when frightened.
4. Common Collared Lizard ( Crotaphytus collaris)
Also known as the eastern collared lizard, the yellow-headed collared lizard, or simply the collared lizard, the collared lizard has an impressive geographic range, stretching across the American Midwest to the West Coast. The species' common name comes from the two black stripes around its neck, which resemble a collar or necklace!
This species is highly sexually dimorphic, with males being more brightly colored than females. Male collared lizards are larger than females and are usually bright green and yellow, while females are mottled browns and grays. Both sexes, however, possess the species' signature black "collar" stripes.
There are five subspecies of the common collared lizard, all of which are similar in size and appearance. They are usually about 8 to 15 inches long from nose to tail tip.
5. King horned lizard ( Phrynosoma solare)
True to its name, this imperial horned lizard looks like it's wearing an ornate crown of spikes. Like many other horned lizards, king lizards also have the strange ability to squirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism.
This particular lizard is only about 4 inches long and is short, squat and round in shape. Due to its stocky, awkward size, it moves fairly slowly, so it relies more on camouflage than speed to avoid predators. It is usually brown or tan with mottled dark brown and red spots.
Due to its color and small size, it is able to hide easily in the dirt, sand and undergrowth of dry, somewhat mountainous habitats. Its diet consists almost entirely of ants and other small insects and invertebrates.
6. Great Plains skink ( Plestiodon obsoletus )
Like most typical skinks, the Great Plains skink has an elongated body, a short, narrow snout, and small, somewhat weak limbs. It is native to much of the American Midwest and Southwest, and its geographic range extends from Arkansas to western Arizona.
One of the largest lizards in its genus, this skink typically measures about 12 to 14 inches long from snout to tail tip. Its scales have a rather attractive pattern, with pale yellow scale tips that are dark brown.
As the name suggests, the Great Plains skink lives primarily in the flat, open plains as well as around the flat foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
7. Western banded gecko ( Coleonyx variegatus )
At first glance, you might mistake a western banded gecko for someone's lost pet leopard gecko! This similarity is due to the close relationship of the two species, as they both belong to the same family Eublepharidae. Like most Eublepharid lizards in its desert-like habitat, this little gecko has movable eyelids that help keep sand and dirt out of its eyes.
These slender little lizards are about 4 to 6 inches long when fully grown. They are mostly tan or pale yellow with dark brown horizontal stripes and spots that run from the top of the head to the tip of the tail.
Unlike the wide, sticky pads typical of most gecko feet, the claws of the western banded gecko are small. These claws are better suited to its rather dry rocky habitat. These beautiful geckos are nocturnal and reclusive in nature, coming out only at night to feed on small insects and invertebrates.
8. Desert iguana ( Dipsosaurus dorsalis )
Desert iguanas are well suited to the harsh, arid climate of southwestern Arizona. It is especially common throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. It is very hardy in nature and remains active even in temperatures over 100F. It often burrows impressive burrows in the sand and mud to cool off at night and hide from predators.
These rather large lizards typically measure about 10 to 16 inches long from nose to tip of tail. Although they are mostly light beige to tan in color, their bodies are covered with irregular small brown spots. These spots gradually become horizontal bands that run across the lizard's tail. Its nose is very short and thick.
The diet of this unique iguana is predominantly herbivorous, consisting mainly of various flowers and leaves. However, it also sometimes feeds on small insects such as ants and beetles.
9. Madrean Alligator Lizard ( Elgaria kingii )
The native range of these slender lizards extends from southern Mexico to southeastern Arizona. Three subspecies are known, all of which are very similar in size and appearance.
As adults, the average length of a Madriya crocodile is about 5 to 7 inches. The slender body is light brown in color with dark brown horizontal stripes running from the base of the neck to the tail. Its head is long, its nose is narrow and pointed, and its limbs are small and fragile.
As a diurnal species, the Madridian crocodile is active during the day. It feeds mainly on small insects and invertebrates. At night, it camouflages itself well in the surrounding fallen leaves, bushes and rocks.
10. Wormwood lizard ( Sceloporus gracious )
We conclude this list of the most incredible lizards in Arizona with the common sagebrush lizard. Its native geographic range is quite impressive, spanning much of the western United States. It's also a fairly hardy, hardy climber that does well at varying altitudes from as low as 500 feet in valleys to over 10,500 feet in mountains.
These small lizards are about 4 to 6 inches long from nose to tail tip. Their long, thin tail takes up about half of their body length. They are predominantly light brown in color with dark and light brown markings running from the base of the neck to the tail. Their eyes are a bit big and their noses are short and blunt. The lizards' long, thin claws on the tip of each toe allow them to climb and traverse rocky, mountainous habitats with ease.
If you are lucky enough to spot one of these tiny lizards, you won't be able to stare at them for long! They are very easily startled and quick-moving by nature, and if startled, they will not hesitate to run away.
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about the author
Hailey Pruett is a non-binary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and owned and cared for a variety of animals, from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, and more!). When they're not busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they're usually playing arcane indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, salamanders and marine iguanas.
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