“How many WHIPTAIL lizards are there in Colorado?”
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 4 kinds of whiptail lizards in Colorado.
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#1. Six-Lined Racerunner
- Aspidoscelis sexlineata
- 2.25 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- “Dark fields,” or broad stripes in between lighter stripes on whiptails, are brown to black.
- 6-8 light stripes vary in color from white or yellow to gray-blue.
- In males, coloring is much brighter, with greens on the back and light turquoise on the belly.
This species has the widest range of all the whiptail lizards in the U.S. but is only found in eastern Colorado.
They thrive in varied habitats, including grassland, rocky terrain, wooded areas, and even floodplains. So, you have a good chance of seeing one as long as you’re within their range!
Six-Lined Racerunners are insectivores, and their primary food source is termites. However, they also eat beetles, ants, and spiders, so these small whiptails can be handy to have around if you have a pest problem.
The Six-Lined Racerunner lives up to its name, clocking speeds at up to 18 miles per hour! They have no problem outmaneuvering predators and curious humans!
#2. Western Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis tigris
- 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 western Colorado 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.
#3. Plateau Striped Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis velox
- 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 southwestern Colorado, 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!
#4. Colorado Checkered Whiptail
- Aspidoscelis neotesselata
- 2.5 to 4 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Light gray stripes and bars form a checkerboard pattern on the dark gray back.
- The tops of the thighs have many pale spots, often creating a webbed pattern.
The Colorado Checkered Whiptail is ONLY found in mid to southeastern Colorado. Its range and population are so small that you’d be lucky to ever spot one in the wild!
These whiptail lizards prefer to live on hillsides and canyons with yucca trees and prickly pear cactus. They eat insects, including caterpillars, moths, and termites, and also spiders.
Colorado Checkered Whiptails are, unfortunately, considered extinct in most of their original habitat and now only have small, scattered populations.
Do you need additional help identifying whiptail lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these whiptail lizards have you seen in Colorado?
Leave a comment below!