9 Types of Whiptail Lizards in Arizona! (ID Guide)

How many WHIPTAIL lizards are there in Arizona?”

common whiptail lizards in arizona

One of the most interesting groups of lizards is Whiptail Lizards, sometimes called Racerunners.

Both names are completely appropriate! These lizards’ tails are impossibly long, sometimes even three times their body length! And they’re so fast you might miss them unless you’re incredibly observant. 

Today, you’ll learn the 9 kinds of whiptail lizards in Arizona.

#1. Western Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis tigris

types of whiptail lizards in arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Body coloring is gray-brown to yellowish, with dark bars or spots that form a web-like pattern.
  • Skin folds are present on the neck, making the throat appear wrinkled.
  • Rust-colored patches are often present on the sides of the belly.

You can find Western Whiptail Lizards in Arizona in sandy, rocky, or firmly packed soil.

Their habitat preferences range from open forest to arid scrubland. Western Whiptails eat other lizards, scorpions, spiders, termites, and beetles. As you can see, this lizard is anything but picky!

Their physical characteristics and habitats are so varied that there are sixteen distinct subspecies! As you can see in the map above, five of the subspecies are present throughout the Southwest.

#2. Plateau Striped Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis velox

species of whiptail lizards in arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • 6 or 7 light stripes run down the back, with dark stripes in-between, ranging from black to dark brown.
  • The tail is bright, royal blue in young lizards, and fades to light blue in adults.
  • The belly is pale, buff, or white, with a light-blue mark on the chin or throat sometimes present.

In northern Arizona, you can typically spot Plateau Striped Whiptails in mountain forests of pine, juniper, oak, and fir trees.

They eat insects like termites, beetles, and grasshoppers, as well as spiders.

The Plateau Striped Whiptail Lizard’s most interesting feature is how it reproduces: the species is all-female!

Nesting adults lay unfertilized eggs, which grow and hatch as genetic clones of the mother. This lizard wins the award for self-sufficiency!

#3. Little Striped Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis inornata

common whiptail lizards in arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • 6 to 8 stripes range in color from pale yellow to white, and dark fields are brownish-green to black.
  • The tail is bluish-purple near the tip, with the coloring brighter in males.
  • Blue coloring on the belly is darker toward the tail, fading to light blue or white near the throat.

The Little Striped Whiptail Lizard prefers prairie grassland but is also found in shrubby desert areas in northwestern Arizona.

It eats insects and their larvae, and also spiders – including tarantulas! This species may be one of the smallest whiptail lizards in Arizona, but it’s brave when it comes to dinnertime!

Because of overgrazing and human development of its habitat, the Little Striped Whiptail population is in decline throughout its range.

#4. Desert Grassland Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis uniparens

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.75 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The coloring of the dark stripes is black to brown, sometimes with a green cast.
  • 6 or 7 light stripes run down the back.
  • The tail color varies from olive-green to blue-green.

The Desert Grassland Whiptail’s preferred habitat is lowland desert and mesquite grassland.

Occasionally they travel into mountain areas and can be found in evergreen forests.

Interestingly, overgrazing is causing the Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard’s range to expand, rather than threatening its habitat. You might think the opposite, but the loss of plant life creates more desert, where this lizard is right at home!

#5. Sonoran Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis sonorae

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The coloring of the dark fields (larger stripes) is brown or black, sometimes reddish, with light tan spots.
  • The back has 6 light lines, and some of the spots may overlap the lines.
  • The tail is dull orange, gradually turning to olive-brown at the tip.

Look for Sonoran Spotted Whiptails in southeastern Arizona in desert scrubland and oak woodland habitats. They eat termites, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders.

Natural predators of this whiptail lizard are in for a surprise when they try to catch one.

This lizard can “drop” its tail if caught, leaving the predator holding a much smaller meal than it planned! The lizard’s tail then regenerates, but this takes so much energy that this defense is often a last resort.

#6. Gila Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis flagellicauda

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Dark fields are coffee brown, with golden-yellow spots.
  • 6 light stripes on the back are usually greenish or gold near the neck and white on the body.
  • The tail is light olive green, and the belly is unmarked white or pale cream.

You can find the Gila Spotted Whiptail in Arizona in juniper and oak woodlands, along the sides of streams, and in desert grasslands. Their diet is primarily termites and ants.

Gila Spotted Whiptail Lizards have a fascinating talent – they can clone themselves!

In a process called parthenogenesis, members of this all-female species lay unfertilized eggs. When the eggs hatch, the young lizards are genetically identical to their mother!

#7. Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis exsanguis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • 6 light stripes run down the back from head to tail.
  • Dark fields are brown or reddish-brown, with light yellow spots.
  • Toward the base of the tail and on the hind legs, the spots may be brighter yellow.

The Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail is at home in canyon bottoms throughout oak and pine forests. However, it sometimes ranges into desert grasslands and scrublands.

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail Lizards eat insects, spiders, and even scorpions! The easiest way for you to identify this species is by its location since its appearance can vary depending on where it lives.

Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptails are fast and skittish and will run into rodent burrows at the first sign of a threat. So, you’ll have to be quick to catch a glance!

#8. Canyon Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis burti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 3.5 to 5.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • 6 or 7 light strips run down the back.
  • Dark fields and heads are reddish with irregular pale speckles.
  • In young individuals, an orange or reddish tail is common.

The Canyon Spotted Whiptail is the LARGEST whiptail lizard in Arizona!

It lives in mountain canyons and mesas with a semi-arid climate. Canyon Spotted Whiptail Lizards use dense, shrubby vegetation to hide since they are often too large to use animal burrows.

You’re likely to spot one of the two U.S. subspecies in the early morning or late afternoon when they are most active.

The Red-Backed Whiptail (A. b. xanthonotus) is smaller and more red-brown. The Giant Spotted Whiptail (A. b. stictogrammus) is the largest subspecies, up to 20 inches long, including the tail!

Besides being the largest whiptail lizard, the Giant Spotted Whiptail is also the most aggressive. Males will fight one another for a female, over territory, and for food!

#9. New Mexico Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis neomexicana

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • 6 or 7 light lines extend from the neck to the tail. The middle line is forked toward the neck.
  • The coloring of the dark fields is often dark brown to black.
  • The tail, chin, and sometimes feet are greenish-blue.

Look for New Mexico Whiptail Lizards in southeastern Arizona in areas with loose, sandy soil and scattered yucca or mesquite trees.

They eat grasshoppers, beetles, termites, and spiders.

Like many other species of whiptails, this species is all female. However, they’re unique because even though they don’t actually mate, they still perform mating rituals with other female lizards! This is thought to be necessary to stimulate ovulation in New Mexico Whiptails.

Do you need additional help identifying whiptail lizards?

Try this field guide!

Which of these whiptail lizards have you seen in Arizona?

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