Online Field Guide to The Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona

Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura) - Arizona
Captive specimen

 SPINY-TAILED IGUANA  Ctenosaura sp.  

DESCRIPTION: A large (up to 310 mm or 12.25 ” from snout to vent), gray to brown lizard with black crossbars on the body and a long spiny tail. The posterior portion of the tail is usually banded. Coloration of individuals can change rapidly from pale gray to dark gray. Juveniles are bright green. A row of enlarged scales forms a ridge that runs from the neck, down the center of the back, and onto the tail.

DISTRIBUTION: Lizards from the genus Ctenosaura (see remarks) were introduced to the to the grounds of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson in the 1970s. They are still reproducing there but have not expanded their range beyond the immediate vicinity of the museum.

HABITAT: In their native Mexico, spiny-tailed iguanas are found in desertscrub and transitional zones between desertscrub and subtropical forest. They are often encountered in rocky terrain adorned with large columnar cacti.

BEHAVIOR: This diurnal lizard is often observed basking on rock outcrops, boulders, cacti, and trees. It has also been observed on fences and walls in urban areas. Juveniles are primarily arboreal. When threatened, this lizard will often retreat into a rock crevice, tree cavity, or woodpecker hole within a large columnar cactus. The spiny tail is then used to block out potential predators.

DIET: The diet of this omnivore consists of a variety of plant material, invertebrates, other lizards, and even the occasional small rodent.

REPRODUCTION: Eggs are laid from spring through early summer.

REMARKS:  The lizards that exist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum are a genetic cross between Ctenosaura conspicuosa (San Esteban Island Spiny-tailed Iguana) and C. hemilopha macrolopha (Sonoran Spiny-tailed Iguana).

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

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

Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura) - Arizona Range Map


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