17 Whiptail Lizards in the United States! (ID Guide)

How many WHIPTAIL lizards are there in the United States?”

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 17 kinds of whiptail lizards in the United States.

#1. Six-Lined Racerunner

  • Aspidoscelis sexlineata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 United States.

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!

YouTube video

#2. Western Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis tigris

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 the United States 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

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 the United States, 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. Little Striped Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis inornata

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 the United States.

It eats insects and their larvae, and also spiders – including tarantulas! This species may be one of the smallest whiptail lizards in the United States, 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.

#5. Common Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis gularis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.25 to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The coloring of the body is greenish, sometimes brown. There are 7 or 8 light stripes on the back.
  • In the dark stripes, white to yellow-brown spots are present.
  • The tail is brown, sometimes with a reddish tint.

Common Spotted Whiptails in the United States are prevalent in prairie grassland and riverbank habitats.

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

These whiptail lizards have one of the longest tails in their family! Its tail is often more than three times the length of its body.

Your chances of finding a Common Spotted Whiptail are good because they are not very skittish. You may also know this species by its other common name, the Texas Spotted Whiptail.

YouTube video

#6. 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!

#7. 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 the United States 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.

#8. Gila Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis flagellicauda
YouTube video

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 the southwest United States 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!

#9. Common Checkered Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis tesselata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • The upper body is cream or pale yellow, with bold, black markings in the shape of a checkerboard pattern.
  • 6 or more pale stripes are visible on the back.
  • The belly is off-white with few markings, and the tail is usually brownish, with the checkerboard pattern continuing.

Common Checkered Whiptails live in the southwest United States in flatlands, canyon slopes, and bluffs. Typically, they can be found around creosote brush or trees like willows, pinion, juniper, and cottonwoods.

Common Checkered Whiptails eat insects, spiders, and centipedes, providing pest control for their habitats!

The origin of this lizard species is an interesting one. Even though it’s an all-female species, most scientists agree it’s actually the result of two whiptail species interbreeding!

#10. 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!

#11. Marbled Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis marmorata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent, with a total length is 8 to 12 inches.
  • The coloring is uniform brown or brownish gray.
  • Light stripes or bars sometimes break the dark fields into a marbled or checked pattern.
  • The belly is light cream or pale yellow with black flecks.

You are likely to find Marbled Whiptail Lizards in the United States in desert flats or other sandy, open areas.

They eat insects, including termites, beetles, and ants.

If you come across a Marbled Whiptail, the tail coloring is one way to identify whether it’s an adult or a juvenile. Hatchlings and younger individuals have a bright blue tail, which is easy to spot.

The two subspecies of the Marbled Whiptail, the Eastern and Western varieties, are similar in size but have different markings. Eastern Marbled Whiptails are often striped, while Western Marbled Whiptails show more of a barred, checkerboard pattern.

#12. Gray Checkered Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis dixoni

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 2.5 to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
  • Coloring is grayish toward the head and orange-brown toward the tail.
  • Rows of dark square spots line the back, giving this lizard its characteristic “gray checkered” appearance.
  • Orange-brown coloring on the back usually extends to the tail.

This species is one of the most challenging species of whiptails to find in the United States.

They prefer sandy or gravelly soil and are seldom found in developed areas or on popular trails. In addition, their range is so small that they’ve only been located in two counties in the US!

They are also fast, alert, and wary of danger, darting around and pausing for only moments to capture an insect or look around. If you find one and are quick enough to take a photo, consider yourself a first-rate herpetologist (or very lucky)!

#13. 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 the United States!

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!

YouTube video

#14. Plateau Spotted Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis scalaris

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Up to 4.25 inches long from snout to vent with a total length is 8 to 12.5 inches.
  • Coloring is brownish-green with rusty orange at the base of the tail.
  • Light stripes run down the back but end before the tail.
  • The middle stripe is often wavy and obscured by spots.

Plateau Spotted Whiptail Lizards have a small range in the United States.

If you find yourself in southwest Texas, look for them in mountains, desert foothills, and canyons with sparse plant life.

Unlike other whiptail species, they are dietary generalists and will eat insects as well as flowers and leaves. They are even known to eat dandelions!

The Plateau Spotted Whiptail Lizard is ONLY found in the Big Bend region of Texas in the US. Despite its small range, its population is abundant. You may even see one on a suburban sidewalk during daylight hours!

#15. Colorado Checkered Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis neotesselata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

#16. 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 the United States 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.

#17. Orange-Throated Whiptail

  • Aspidoscelis hyperythra

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 the United States!

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 the United States?

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