Sauromalus ater - Dumeril, 1856
Common Chuckwalla
Other English Common Names: common chuckwalla
Synonym(s): Sauromalus obesus (Baird, 1858)
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Sauromalus ater Duméril, 1856 (TSN 564596)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.102283
Element Code: ARACF13010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Reptiles - Lizards
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Reptilia Squamata Iguanidae Sauromalus
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Montanucci, R. R. 2000. Comments on the restriction of the type locality and nomenclature of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater Dumeril, 1856. Herpetological Review 31:138-142.
Concept Reference Code: A00MON01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Sauromalus obesus
Taxonomic Comments: Hollingsworth (1998) examined variation in Sauromalus and concluded that five species should be recognized. He regarded S. obesus as conspecific with S. ater, and he used S. ater, which has priority, as the specific name of the combined taxon. No subspecies of S. ater were recognized. Based primarily on the extensive use of the name S. obesus, a petition to give that name precedence over that of S. ater was submitted to the ICZN. However, McDiarmid et al. (2002) questioned this reasoning and argued that the priority of S. ater should be maintained. In 2004, ICZN ruled that the name Sauromalus ater Duméril 1856 has precedence over the name Sauromalus obesus (Baird 1858) (Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 61:74-75). Hence, Sauromalus obesus is no longer the correct name for the chuckwallas of the United States (or Mexico).

See Petren and Case (1997) for a phylogenetic analysis of Sauromalus based on mtDNA variation. Patterns of mtDNA variation show geographic patterns but do not exhibit a phylogenetic break at the Colorado River valley (in contrast to the pattern found in the desert tortoise) (Lamb et al. 1992).

MtDNA data indicate that Cyclura is monophyletic and not closely releated to any other genus, whereas Iguana is strongly supported as the sister taxon to Sauromalus (Malone et al. 2000). Wiens and Hollingsworth (2000) concluded that Cyclura is the sister taxon of Iguana and that Sauromalus probably is the sister taxon of the Cyclura-Iguana clade.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 24Jun2005
Global Status Last Changed: 21Jun2001
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Fairly common in many areas in a restricted range in the deserts of southwestern North America; little information is available on populations and trends, but apparently secure rangewide; threatened by collecting in some isolated areas, but probably not very threatened rangewide.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Oct1996)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Arizona (S4), California (SNR), Navajo Nation (S2), Nevada (S3), Utah (S3)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: This lizard ranges from southern Nevada, southern Utah, southeastern California, and western Arizona south to southern Baja California and west-central Sonora, Mexico; in Baja California, most of the distribution is away from the west coast (Hollingsworth 1998, Grismer 2002, Stebbins 2003).

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: This species is represented by a large number of viable occurrences throughout the majority of the range in California, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico.

Population Size: 100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Abundance information is not available rangewide, but total adult population size is likely more than 100,000. Coombs (1977) estimated a population size of 10,000-15,000 individuals in Washington County, Utah. The abundance in the remainder of the Utah range (Kane, Garfield, and San Juan counties) is likely to be less than in Washington County (George Oliver, pers. comm., 1998).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Many (41-125)

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Chuckwall populations are locally threatened by excessive collecting and habitat degradation (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 1997). Collectors not only remove individuals from the habitat may thus may reduce population viability but also often cause microhabitat destruction when tools are used move or break rocks and exfoliations to expose the reptiles (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 1997). Some populations have been hard hit by collectors. For example, the easily accessible South Mountain population, near Phoenix, Arizona, has a unique color pattern and is highly desired by the pet trade; exploitation of this population and destruction of its habitat are on the rise (Gergus et al. 1998). Historical populations in the Glen Canyon area of Utah have been reduced or eliminated by the damming of the Colorado River. Habitat degradation due to grazing activities of goats, sheep, and burros is also a potential threat.

Overall, however, the species appears to be moderately to not very threatened across most of its range. The species is regarded as not very threatened in Sonora, Mexico (Andres Villareal Lazarraga, pers. comm., 1998).

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: The Utah Heritage Program states that the population trend there is unknown but perhaps stable (George Oliver, pers. comm., 1998). Populations in Sonora, Mexico are considered stable (Andres Villareal Lazarraga, pers. comm., 1998).

Long-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%
Long-term Trend Comments: Populations may vary with environmental conditions. According to Abts (1987), annual densities are variable with higher densities after relatively mild winters and the occurrence of summer rainfall. During a seven-year study in the Colorado Desert of southwestern California, densities ranged from 15 to 30 individuals per hectare (Abts 1987). Nevertheless, area of occupancy and population size appear to be relatively stable over most of the range.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Determine rangewide information on population numbers, abundance, and trends. Overcollecting appears to be on the rise in some areas--investigate the extent of collecting and loss of habitat due to collecting.

Distribution
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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) This lizard ranges from southern Nevada, southern Utah, southeastern California, and western Arizona south to southern Baja California and west-central Sonora, Mexico; in Baja California, most of the distribution is away from the west coast (Hollingsworth 1998, Grismer 2002, Stebbins 2003).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AZ, CA, NN, NV, UT

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AZ Coconino (04005), Maricopa (04013), Yuma (04027)
UT Garfield (49017)*, Iron (49021)*, Kane (49025), San Juan (49037)*, Washington (49053)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
14 Upper Lake Powell (14070001)+*, Dirty Devil (14070004)+*, Escalante (14070005)+*, Lower Lake Powell (14070006)+, Paria (14070007)+*, Lower San Juan (14080205)+*
15 Lower Colorado-Marble Canyon (15010001)+, Upper Virgin (15010008)+, Fort Pierce Wash (15010009)+, Lower Virgin (15010010)+, Lower Little Colorado (15020016)+, Middle Gila (15050100)+, Lower Salt (15060106)+, Lower Gila-Painted Rock Reservoir (15070101)+, Lower Gila (15070201)+, San Cristobal Wash (15070203)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A large lizard.
General Description: A large, dorso-ventrally flattened, dark-bodied lizard with loose folds of skin on the necks and sides; dorsum has small granular scales; tail has blunt tip and broad base; no rostral scale; young are crossbanded with brown and gray-brown on body and tail; adult males are mainly dark (variously marked with gray, red, or yellow) with pale yellow tail; females (and also males in southwestern Utah) tend to retain juvenile crossbands; largest native iguanid in U.S., adult snout-vent length usually 14-20 cm (Stebbins 1985). Maximum total length about 42 cm.
Diagnostic Characteristics: Differs from the gila monster in having dorsal scales small and granular (vs. large and beadlike) and in having femoral pores on the underside of the thigh (pores lacking in gila monster). Differs from other U.S. iguanid lizards in being larger and more robust, lacking expanded toetips, lacking head spines (horns), lacking enlarged middorsal scales, and having nonoverlapping scales at the upper edge of the orbit (Smith and Brodie 1982).
Reproduction Comments: Mating apparently occurs May to June. Lays clutch of 5-16 eggs (clutch size increases with female body size), June perhaps to August. In Colorado Desert of southeastern California, oviposition occurs during first 3 weeks of July, just prior to summer rainfall (Abts 1988). Females may lay only every second year (Behler and King 1979). In Colorado Desert of southeastern California, males typically sexually mature at 2 years, females at 2-3 years if conditions optimal or at about 5 years if drought occurs; over several years, mean annual frequency of reproduction ranged from 0 to 95%; In Mojave Desert, females mature apparently in 5 years (Abts 1987). In southeastern California, first hatchling sighted in late September; hatchlings observed more frequently after early November (if climate mild) (Abts 1988).
Ecology Comments: Southeastern California: first-year survivorship varied greatly among years, influenced mainly by egg mortality; annual survivorship about 75% for older individuals; large adults apparently most susceptible to predation; population density 15-30/ha; life expectancy about 15 years; summer rainfall promoted early maturity and successful reproduction (Abts 1987).
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Bare rock/talus/scree, Desert
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil
Habitat Comments: This lizard inhabits rocky desert; lava flows, hillsides, and outcrops. Creosote bush occurs throughout most of the range (Stebbins 2003). Habitats encompass subtropical thornforest in the southern part of the range. Individuals seek shelter in rock crevices (or in burrows on islands in the Gulf of California; Grismer 2002). Eggs are laid underground.
Adult Food Habits: Frugivore, Herbivore
Immature Food Habits: Frugivore, Herbivore
Food Comments: Browses on a wide variety of leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit (Behler and King 1979). Occasionally eats insects (Stebbins 1985).
Adult Phenology: Diurnal, Hibernates/aestivates
Immature Phenology: Diurnal, Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: Basks on rocks during the day. Inactive in cold temperatures or extreme heat. In southeastern California, may be active throughout most of year when winters relatively mild and summer rainfall frequent (Abts 1987).
Length: 42 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Busy highway or highway with obstructions such that lizards rarely if ever cross successfully; major river, lake, pond, or deep marsh; urbanized area dominated by buildings and pavement.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Justification: Movement information is scarce, but it seems unlikely that two locations separated by a gap of less than several kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent occurrences over the long term.
Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .2 km
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 24Jun2005
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and M. K. Clausen
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 24Jun2005
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Abts, M. L. 1985. The life history strategy of the saxicolous desert lizard, Sauromalus obesus. Ph.D. dissertation, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.

  • Abts, M. L. 1987. Environment and variation in life history traits of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus. Ecological Monographs 57:215-232.

  • Abts, M. L. 1988. Reproduction in the saxicolous desert lizard, Sauromalus obesus: the female reproductive cycle. Copeia 1988:382-393.

  • Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 719 pp.

  • Berry, K. H. 1974. The ecology and social behavior of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus obesus Baird. University of California Publications in Zoology 101.

  • Burghardt, G. M., and A. S. Rand, eds. 1982. Iguanas of the world. Their behavior, ecology and conservation. Noyes Publications, Park Ridge, New Jersey. 472 pp.

  • Collins, J. T. 1990. Standard common and current scientific names for North American amphibians and reptiles. 3rd ed. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Circular No. 19. 41 pp.

  • Coombs, E. M. [no date-1977?]. Wildlife observations of the hot desert region, Washington County, Utah, with emphasis on reptilian species and their habitat in relation to livestock grazing. A report to the Cedar City District, BLM by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

  • Crother, B. I. (editor). 2008. Scientific and standard English names of amphibians and reptiles of North America north of Mexico, with comments regarding confidence in our understanding. Sixth edition. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Herpetological Circular 37:1-84. Online with updates at: http://www.ssarherps.org/pages/comm_names/Index.php

  • Crother, B. I. (editor). 2012. Scientific and standard English names of amphibians and reptiles of North America north of Mexico, with comments regarding confidence in our understanding. 7th edition. SSAR Herpetological Circular 39:1-92.

  • Crother, B. I., J. Boundy, J. A. Campbell, K. de Quieroz, D. Frost, D. M. Green, R. Highton, J. B. Iverson, R. W. McDiarmid, P. A. Meylan, T. W. Reeder, M. E. Seidel, J. W. Sites, Jr., S. G. Tilley, and D. B. Wake. 2003. Scientific and standard English names of amphibians and reptiles of North America north of Mexico: update. Herpetological Review 34:198-203.

  • Gergus, E.W.A., B. K. Sullivan, and B. D. Hollingsworth. 1998. Population genetic structure and diversity of chuckwalla lizards (Sauromalus obesus) in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Unpublished report submitted to: Arizona Game and Fish Department, Heritage Grant Project #U95021, Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Grismer, L. L. 2002. Amphibians and reptiles of Baja California including its Pacific islands and islands in the Sea of Cortes. University of California Press, Berkeley. xiii + 399 pp.

  • Herp Diversity Review Board. 1996. Herp Diversity Review Species List Final Rankings. Unpublished report to the Arizona Natural Heritage Program, Arizona Game and Fish Department.

  • Hollingsworth, B. D. 1998. The systematics of chuckwallas (Sauromalus) with a phylogenetic analysis of other iguanid lizards. Herpetological Monographs (12):38-191.

  • Hollingsworth, B. D. 1998. The systematics of chuckwallas (Sauromalus) with a phylogenetic analysis of other iguanid lizards. Herp. Monographs, 12: 38-191.

  • Hollingsworth, B.D. 1998. The systematics of chuckwallas (Sauromalus) with a phylogenetic analysis of other iguanid lizards. Herpetological Monographs 12:38-191.

  • Johnson, S. R. 1965. An ecological study of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus Baird, in the western Mojave Desert. American Midland Naturalist 73:1-29.

  • Lamb, T., T. R. Jones, and J. C. Avise. 1992. Phylogenetic histories of representative herpetofauna of the southwestern U.S.: mitochondrial DNA variation in the desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) and the chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus). Journal of Evolutionary Biology 5:465-480.

  • Malone, C. L., T. Wheeler, J. F. Taylor, and S. K. Davis. 2000. Phylogeography of the Caribbean rock iguana (Cyclura): implications for conservation and insights on the biogeographic history of the West Indies. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 17:269-279.

  • McDiarmid, R. W., K. de Queiroz, K. Beaman, B. Crother, R. Etheridge, O. Flores-Villela, D. Frost, L. L. Grismer, B. D. Hollingsworth, M. Kearney, J. A. McGuire, and G. Zug. 2002. Comment on the proposed precedence of the specific name of Euphryne obesus Baird, 1859, over that of Sauromalus ater Dumeril, 1956 (Reptilia, Squamata). Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 59(1):45-48.

  • Montanucci, R. R. 2000. Comments on the restriction of the type locality and nomenclature of the chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater Dumeril, 1856. Herpetological Review 31:138-142.

  • Nagy, K. A. 1973. Behavior, diet and reproduction in a desert lizard, Sauromalus obesus. Copeia 1973:93-102.

  • Nagy, K. A., and V. H. Shoemaker. 1975. Energy and nitrogen budgets of the free-living desert lizard Sauromalus obesus. Physiological Zoology 48:252-262.

  • New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. 1997. Fish and Wildlife Information Exchange--VA Tech. Online. Available: http://www.fw.vt.edu/fishex/nm.htm. Accessed 14 April 1998, last update 29 October 1997.

  • Petre, K., and T. J. Case. 1997. A phylogenetic analysis of body size evolution and biogeography in chuckwallas (SAUROMALUS) and other iguanines. Evolution 51:206-219.

  • Schwinn, M. A., and L. Minden. 1980. Utah reptile and amphibian latilong distribution. Publ. No. 80-1. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • Smith, H. M. and E. D. Brodie, Jr. 1982. Reptiles of North America. Golden Press, New York. 240 pp.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 1985a. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Second edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. xiv + 336 pp.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 2003. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

  • Tanner, W. W., and D. F. Avery. 1964. A new Sauromalus obesus from the upper Colorado basin of Utah. Herpetologica 20: 38-42.

  • Wauer, R. H. 1964. Reptiles and amphibians of Zion National Park. Zion Natural History Association, Zion National Park, Utah. 54 pp.

  • Wiens, J. J., and B. D. Hollingsworth. 2000. War of the iguanas: conflicting molecular and morphological phylogenies and long-branch attraction in iguanid lizards. Systematic Biology 49:143-159.

  • Woodbury, A. M. 1928. The reptiles of Zion National Park. Copeia 1927: 14.

  • Woodbury, A. M. 1931. A descriptive catalog of the reptiles of Utah. Bull. Univ. Utah 21 (5) [Biol. Ser. 1 (4)]: i-xii + 1-129.

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