Online Field Guide to The Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona

Tiger Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris) Arizona
Maricops County, AZ

Tiger Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris) Arizona
Juvenile. Maricopa Co., AZ
Tiger Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris) Arizona
Yuma Co., AZ

 TIGER WHIPTAIL  Aspidoscelis tigris  

DESCRIPTION: A medium-sized (up to 110 mm or 4.3″ from snout to vent), slim, orange-brown to gray-brown lizard with a long, thin tail, and a slim, pointed snout. The body is marked with dark reticulations or marbling, light spots, and faint, light stripes. The reticulations are dark gray or black on the anterior portion of the sides. The tail is brown. Males have dark gray or black coloration on the chest and throat. Juveniles have a plain pale underside, distinct stripes, spots on the body and limbs, and a bright blue tail. As the animal ages the tail becomes brown, the stripes fade, and the spots often merge together into reticulations. The scales on the body are small and granular. The scales on the tail are large, keeled, and rectangular. The belly scales are large, smooth, and rectangular and the scales on top of the head are large, smooth, and plate-like. The similar looking Red-backed Whiptail is larger, has bright orange coloration on the lower back, and lacks dark markings on the sides and chest.

DISTRIBUTION: This lizard is found across nearly all of southwestern and western Arizona. It ranges into the deserts of northern Arizona’s plateau region, and follows the desertscrubs across our southeastern border into New Mexico. In our state it is found at elevations ranging from near sea level along the Colorado River to about 5,500′.

HABITAT: Primarily an inhabitant of Arizona’s desertscrub communities. It also enters Semidesert Grassland and Interior Chaparral in some areas. This lizard occupies a wide variety of terrain types including sandy flatlands, plateaus, rocky bajadas, drainages, canyons, and steep mountain slopes. It is usually found in relatively open and sunny areas.

BEHAVIOR: This is an alert, fast-moving, ground-dweller that actively forages during the day. It spends nearly all of its waking hours in motion foraging and moving between sun and shade for thermoregulation. It hibernates during the cold months of fall and winter. Young usually emerge from hibernation in March (about a month before adults) and remain active through October (about a month later than adults). This wary lizard can be difficult to capture. It is usually very conscious of its proximity to the pursuer and is careful to stay just out of reach.

DIET: It actively forages by rooting around in organic matter under bushes and by digging in the soil around the bases of rocks, logs, and other surface debris. It feeds on termites, insect larvae, beetles, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, and other insects.

REPRODUCTION: The Tiger Whiptail mates in in spring and lays one or two clutches of eggs in late spring or summer. Clutch size ranges from 1 to 10 eggs.

By Thomas C. Brennan

Brennan, T. C., & A. T. Holycross. 2006. A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department. Phoenix, AZ

Brennan, T. C., & A. T. Holycross. 2005. A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Maricopa County. Arizona Game and Fish Department. Phoenix, AZ

Degenhardt, W. G., Painter, C. W., and Price, A. H.. 1996. Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque.

Stebbins, R.C. 2003. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Tiger Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris) Arizona Range Map


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