Chuckwalla

Children's Zoo

Location

In the Zoo
Size
Male
Female
Height:
Length:
10 inches
10 inches
Weight
1.5 pounds
1.5 pounds
Maturity:
3 years
3 years

Geographic Range

SW United States and parts of N Mexico/Baja

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Sauromalus ater
Class:
Reptilia
Order:
Squamata
Family:
Iguanidae
Genus:
Sauromalus

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet:
Activity Time Frame:
Interactivity:
Social Sexual Dimorphism: yes
Sexual Dimorphism:
Yes
Gestation:
60 days gestation, 8 month incubation Lifespan in the Wild: 70+ years
Lifespan in the Wild:
25 years
Lifespan in Captivity:
25 years

Conservation

Status:
Threats:

Characteristics

The chuckwalla, a lizard in the Iguana family, has a robust build suitable for life in the arid deserts. Sexually dimorphic adults vary in size and color; males being larger also exhibit a more rusty coloration on their back while the head and limbs remain black, females on the other hand retain their juvenile grayish yellow complexion. Males also exhibit large pores on the inside of their legs which produce secretions. Scales are small, course and granular giving a sand paper like texture. Folds of skin appear in excess on flaps around the neck and abdomen, followed by a long (10 inch) tail attributing to half of its length. Anatomical: Will wedge itself into tight rocky crevasses and gulp air to inflate like a balloon to avoid predation. Can also drop its tail when escaping.

Species Specifics

The Three-Toed Box Turtle has a tan or olive carapace with darker seams and some vague markings. They also have orange, red and yellow spots on their head and forelimbs.The defining characteristic of this turtle is its toes. It has three toes on its back feet, thus why its known as the Three Toed Box Turtle. Hybrid Three Toed Box Turtles who have been interbred with Common Box Turtles sometimes have four toes instead of three. Sexual Dimorphism: males are larger. Males are slightly larger on average, the posterior lobe of their plastron is concave, and the claws on their hind legs are short, thick and curved. Males also have thicker and longer tails. Females' rear claws are longer, straighter and more slender, and the posterior lobe of their plastron is flat or slightly convex. There are four subspecies of Terrapene carolina in the United States. Terrapene carolina bauri (Florida Box Turtle) lives on the peninsula of Florida. Terrapene c. major (Gulf Coast Box Turtle) ranges from the panhandle of Florida westward along the Gulf cost to eastern Texas. Terrapene c. triunguis (Three-toed Box Turtle) lives in the Mississippi River Valley from northern Missouri southward across southeastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma into southcentral Texas; and southeastward across western Tennessee and Georgia to the coastal lowlands.

Physical Characteristics

Can reach basking temperatures of 105°F. Enters brumation in winter months to avoid cold weather.

Ecology

Habitat

Arid Deserts of SW USA, Rocky Outcroppings

Distribution

Habitats: Chuckwallas inhabit arid desert regions in the South Western United States, and parts of Northern Mexico, including Baja. They are predominantly found on or near rocky outcroppings and lava flows of the Great Basin, Mojave and Sonoran Deserts from Death Valley to the Grand Canyon and North into Nevada through the Colorado River valleys.

Diet

Desert Flowers. Wild Diet: Almost entirely Herbivorous, Chuckwallas mostly feed on vegetation. This includes desert succulents and other drought resistant plants such as Chaparral and Sage Scrub varieties. Everything from Flowers to fruits, leaves and the occasional insect make up the diet of this desert lizard.

Ecological Web

Ecological Role: Chuckwallas play a vital role in the desert habitats of the South Western US as it is one of few herbivorous lizards in the region playing a vital role in the food web. Predators: Snakes, Coyotes, Hawks, and other small mammals.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Active in the day time periods and throughout spring and summer, retreating to burrows during the fall and winter months for brumation.

Behavior

Unfold loose skin folds from around neck and belly to increase surface area while basking to absorb more light.

Social Behavior

Although not considered social, chuckwallas often have no other place for refuge in a vast desert with sparse rocky areas, as such, many chuckwallas may inadvertently find shelter in the same rocky outcroppings. Males are more territorial and defensive during mating season, using push up displays to signal rivals.

Reproductive Behavior

Males will compete fiercely for females within their range. Mating occurs in April, after which males disperse and do not invest in the offspring further.

Offspring

5-16 eggs are laid in the early summer, young are born precocial.

Conservation

Status

Listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN due to its vast, often inaccessible terrain and quick reproductive rates.

Historical

Home range remains undeveloped by human activity and historical occurrence has remained unchanged.

Current Threats

Introduced Non-Native, Domestic, and Invasive Species

Our Role

Oakland Zoo houses many chuckwallas in our Reptile Room as well as one individual who is used in educational programming. Our goal is to inform guests about the importance of California Native wildlife.

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How You Can Help

Be aware of desert animals, do not touch, chase or pick up chuckwallas in the wild. If a chuckwalla feels threatened it will lose its tail, which takes a long time to grow back.

Fascinating Facts

The dominant male chuckwalla is easily recognized due to a change in color from a dull gray to a rusty red, showing off his position among other males.

The Iriquois and other Native Americans used them for food, medical, ceremonial, burial and hunting purposes.

Of all the Gerrhosaururidae lizards (Plated lizards) they are the most armored.

References

Stebbins, Robert C. Peterson's Field Guides: Western Reptiles & Amphibians 1985 Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston/New York

Moenich, David R. Lizards 1995. THF Publications, Inc. Neptune City, NJ.

Internet: Utah's Hogle Zoo & Phoenix Zoo websites.

Internet: Robin N. Clayton, "Chuckwalla: Sauromalus ater" on Arizona Highways.