2 Types of Whiptail Lizards in California! (ID Guide)

How many WHIPTAIL lizards are there in California?”

common whiptail lizards in California

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 2 kinds of whiptail lizards in California.


#1. Western Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis tigris

types of whiptail lizards in California

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 California 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. Orange-Throated Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis hyperythra

species of whiptail lizards in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The coloring of the dark fields varies from gray to reddish-brown and black.
  • Light stripes run the length of the body.
  • The top of the head is yellow-brown to olive, and the throat is orange, as its name suggests. In males, the entire underside is sometimes orange.

The Orange-Throated Whiptail is the smallest whiptail lizard in California!

Orange-Throated Whiptail Lizards have the smallest range of all whiptails, and it has been reduced by 75% by residential development. Look for them in southern California in washes, streams, and other sandy areas with light, sparse brush.

YouTube video

Do you need additional help identifying whiptail lizards?

Try this field guide!


Which of these whiptail lizards have you seen in California?

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