Critter of the Week: Chuckwalla

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM: ANIMALIA

PHYLUM: CHORDATA

CLASS: REPTILIA

ORDER: SQUAMATA

SUBORDER: IGUANIA

FAMILY: IGUANIDAE

GENUS: SAUROMALUS

CHUCKWALLA RANGE

The chuckwalla is a type of large lizard that is found in northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Chuckwallas often live in remote and inhospitable places like rocky areas or lava flows, which has kept their population stable. The common chuckwalla can reach over a foot in length while the largest chuckwalla, the San Esteban chuckwalla, can reach over two feet! All chuckwallas possess loose flaps of skin around their neck and stomach, which have a unique purpose.
Chuckwallas don’t necessarily camouflage like chameleons do. Instead, their bodies are made to blend into their surroundings naturally. For example, mood and outer temperature play the biggest role in skin coloration. That’s why different subspecies of chuckwallas look so dissimilar since they live in diverse areas with various climates.
Chuckwallas are very territorial; a male won’t mind if females wander into their territory but will become aggressive if another male’s overlaps. The loose skin folds around the chuckwalla’s neck and sides not only give them the impression of being larger, but it also aids in escaping predators. Chuckwallas will run between tight spaces like small crevices and inflate their lungs until they fill up the entire area, making it impossible to pull them out.
Chuckwallas usually eat early in the morning and spend the rest of the day sunbathing. Basking in the sun increases their body temperature giving them energy to complete daily activities. Chuckwallas are primarily plant eaters, consuming fruit, leaves, and desert flowers, but will eat insects if food is scarce. Interestingly, there has been research done showing that these lizards prefer to snack on yellow flowers.
Hibernation lasts from October-March, leading into the mating season, which goes from April-July. Females will secrete a strong scent to let males know they’re ready to mate. Male chuckwallas will fight other males for the right to mate with different females. The female will build a nest in a warm location safe from predators, lay between 5-16 eggs, and then leave. The babies will hatch after a month and will need to fend for themselves.