Online Field Guide to The Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) Arizona
Maricopa County, AZ

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) Arizona
Pinal Co., AZ

 DESERT SPINY LIZARD  Sceloporus magister  

DESCRIPTION: A large (up to about 142 mm or 5.6″ from snout to vent), stocky lizard with large, pointed, keeled, overlapping scales. Base coloration is gray, tan, or brown. In the southern subspecies (S. m. magister) males often have a large longitudinal purple patch or bar on the mid-dorsum. In north-central Arzona and in the subspecies which lives on the northeastern plateaus (S. m. cephaloflavus) adults often have a yellow or orange head. Yellow or orange scales are scattered on the sides of the body. A black wedge shape marks each shoulder. Males have two large, bright, blue-green patches on the belly and a blue-green patch on the throat. Belly and throat patches are faint or absent in females. Its large, black, wedge-shaped shoulder markings distinguish this lizard from Arizona’s smaller Sceloporus. Its yellow or orange head or large purple dorsal bar (in adult males) distinguishes this lizard from the similar Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard and Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard. Its lack of bars on the forelimbs distinguish it from Clark’s Spiny Lizard. The similar Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard has a complete collar.

DISTRIBUTION: The Desert Spiny Lizard ranges across the deserts of southwestern Arizona and the northeastern plateaus at elevations ranging from near sea level along the Colorado River to about about 5,000′.

HABITAT: Biotic communities including Sonoran Desertscrub, Great Basin Desertscrub, Semidesert Grassland, Interior Chaparral, and woodlands are home to this lizard. It is usually encountered on lower slopes, bajadas, plains, and low valleys, often in the branches of trees or in the vicinity of ground cover such as wood piles, rock piles, and packrat nests.

BEHAVIOR: This diurnal lizard basks on the branches of trees, on rocks, or on other sunlit perches. When encountered it is often heard before it is seen as it scratches and claws the bark en route to the opposite side of the trunk or branch. It flees down into the inner tangles of pack rat nests, rock crevices, or burrows when threatened. It has a strong jaw and often bites when captured. It hibernates during the cold months of winter and late fall. 

DIET: The Desert Spiny Lizard feeds on a variety of insects including ants, beetles, and caterpillars. It also feeds on spiders, centipedes, small lizards, and some plant material.

REPRODUCTION: It is often encountered in male-female pairs. Mating takes place in spring and summer and one or two clutches of eggs are laid in spring and summer. Clutch size ranges from 2 to 12 eggs. Hatchlings may appear as early as late May but usually begin to emerge in July.

By Thomas C. Brennan

Brennan, T. C., and 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.

Phelan, R.L., and B.H. Brattstrom. 1955. Geographic Variation in Sceloporus magister. Herpetologica. 11

Schulte, J.A., J.R. Macey, and T.J. Papenfuss. 2006,A genetic perspective on the geographic association of taxa among arid North American lizards of the Sceloporus magister complex (Squamata: Iguanidae: Phrynosomatinae) Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39: 873–880

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

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) Arizona Range Map


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