CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Aspidoscelis flagellicauda x Aspidoscelis sonorae
Complex
(Gila Spotted Whiptail x Sonoran Spotted Whiptail)

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Aspidoscelis mapRange in California: Red

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observation link






This is an alien species that has been introduced into California. It is not a native species.

Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
Adult, Orange County
© Ryan Winkleman
     
     
Gila Spotted Whiptails and Sonoran Spotted Whiptails From Their Native Range
 
Gila Spotted Whiptail - Aspidoscelis flagellicauda
Gila Spotted Whiptail Gila Spotted Whiptail Gila Spotted Whiptail
Cochise County, Arizona Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
     
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail - Aspidoscelis sonorae
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail
xSonoran Spotted Whiptail
Santa Cruz County, Arizona Adult, Pajarito Mountains,
Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
     
Native Habitat
Gila Spotted Whiptail habitat Sonoran Spotted Whiptail habitat Sonoran Spotted Whiptail habitat
Gila Spotted Whiptail habitat,
Cochise County, Arizona
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail habitat, Pajarito Mountains, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail habitat,
Santa Rita Mountains,
Santa Cruz County, Arizona
     
Short Videos of Whiptails in Their Native Habitat
Gila Spotted Whiptail Sonoran Spotted Whiptail  
An adult Gila Spotted Whiptail crawls along the ground in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.
Sonoran Spotted Whiptails in
Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
 
     
Description
All life history and behavioral information is based on the two species as observed in their natural habitat.

Size
The average snout to vent length of both species is approximately 3.5 inches (90 mm).

Appearance
A moderately-large slim-bodied lizard with a long slender tail, a pointed snout, large symmetrical head plates, and a long tail tapering to a thin point about twice the size of the body.
Color and Pattern

Both species are similar in color and pattern and are difficult to differentiate by appearance where they occur together. The hybrids are similar in appearance to both species.

The ground color is blackish, brown, or reddish.
There are 6 distinct light-colored longitudinal stripes on the back and sides.
Light spots are present in the dark fields between the stripes. Spots that are lighter in color than the light stripes may also extend onto the stripes. Older individuals tend to be more heavily spotted.

The underside is cream colored and not marked.
Young
Juveniles are similar to adults but have few spots and the contrast between the light stripes and the dark fields is greater.

Scales
Some scale differences between the two species (from Stebbins, 2003:

A. flagellicauda usually has only 2 pre-anal scales.
A. sonorae usually has 3 pre-anal scales.

A. flagellicauda usually has 3-6 dorsal granules between the pair of middorsal stripes (paravertebrals).
A. sonorae usually has 5-8 dorsal granules between the pair of middorsal stripes (paravertebrals).

A. flagellicauda  has 77-84 dorsal granules.
A. sonorae has 74-80 dorsal granules.

A. flagellicauda  has 32-39 total femoral pores.
A. sonorae has 35-41 total femoral pores.

Life History and Behaviors

Activity
Active on sunny days in the morning and afternoon, becoming inactive on very hot days or cloudy days.
Both species are active from about April through October or November. Most active between May and August.
Moves actively and rarely appears to stop, though they will rest in the shade occasionally.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a variety of insects (termites, beetles, grasshoppers) arthropods, and spiders

A very active forager, often continually moving along the ground, poking its snout into leaf litter and bushes, and sometimes using the feet to dig into and scratch leaf litter when searching for food.
Reproduction and Young
Both species are made up of only females that do not need males to fertilize their eggs. They reproduce with unfertilized eggs. The eggs hatch into genetically identical female lizards.

A. flagellicauda lays a single clutch of 2 - 6 eggs in June or July which hatch about 2 months later.

A. sonorae
lays 2 or 3 clutches of 1 - 7 eggs, with an average of 4, from June through August.

Habitat
In California, found in landscaping and on parking lot asphalt. Described by Winkleman and Backlin as "...strongly acclimated to the urbanized environment and readily using spaces underneath concrete slabs for shelter."

Native Habitat

A. flagellicauda is found primarily in oak and pine and pinyon/juniper evergreen woodlands and interior chaparral, sometimes in semi-desert grasslands, and prefers riparian corridors.

A. sonorae is found primarily in oak woodlands and grassland, but also ranges into pine/oak woodlands and desert scrub. Seems to prefer riparian corridors.

Geographical Range

Range In California


So far, only found in Irvine, Orange County, and in Lake Forest, Orange County.


Native Ranges

Aspidoscelis flagellicauda ranges across central  Arizona into New Mexico with an isolated poulation in the Chiricahua and Catalina Mountains of Arizona.

Aspidoscelis sonora is found in southeast Arizona just barely into New Mexico, and south into Mexico.

whiptails map
Native Elevational Range

A. sonorae  is found primarily between 700 and 7000 feet elevation (215 to 2130 meters).

A. flagellicauda  is found primarily between 4000 and 6500 feet elevation (1220 to 1980 meters).

Taxonomic Notes
In April 2015 a population of alien whiptails observed in Irvine in May 2014 was reported on iNaturalist.org.

* Ryan S. Winkleman & Adam R. Backlin published a note in June 2016 documenting non-native whiptails they found in Irvine. ** Experts could not identify the exact species and called them "Aspidoscelis flagellicauda/sonorae complex (Spotted Whiptail)."

"Presumably introduced as a single released/escaped pet that subsequently underwent asexual reproduction and established a small, localized population."  These whiptails are all females that reproduce with unfertilized eggs, which allows them to colonize and spread quickly from just one female. Both adults and juveniles were observed, showing that they have established a population. Although the authors concluded that the whiptails were apparently extirpated from the original observation site, Ryan Winkleman informed me that after the note was published several whiptails were observed there, indicating that they are still extant there. I have also received a personal communication from a biologist who observed a few whiptails in June 2016 while conducting a bird survey about two miles from the originally documented area.

The authors also mention that at least one similar whiptail was observed in the neighboring city of Lake Forest, suggesting that the whiptails are more widespread in the region and possibly expanding their range.


* (All quotations are from Ryan S. Winkleman & Adam R. Backlin, Herpetological Review47(2), 2016)

** "The Aspidoscelis flagellicauda/sonorae complex are triploid unisexuals which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify these lizards to the species level with just mtDNA. To complicate the identification further, many of the morphological characters that are used to differentiate A. flagellicauda from  A. sonorae, including pre-anal scale counts, number of granules between the paravertebrals, and the number of scales around mid-body, were not useful in narrowing the identification. The collected specimens, as examined by Greg B. Pauly, were found in each case to have one character that would favor identification as one species and another contradictory character that would favor identification as the other species. For the purpose of this note, because the specimens are non-native and apparently extirpated from the collection site, we feel that identification to species is not significant and may not be possible without nuclear sequence data due to the aforementioned circumstances."

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
These newly-introduced non-native whiptails could possibly impact the native Orange-throated Whiptail and other native lizards and possibly other insectivores in copmetition for food and territory.
Taxonomy
Family Teiidae Whiptails and Racerunners Gray, 1827
Genus Aspidoscelis
(formerly Cnemidophorus)
Whiptails Fitzinger, 1843
Species A. flagellicauda
x A. sonorae
Gila Spotted Whiptail
x Sonoran Spotted Whiptail
(Lowe and Wright, 1964)
(Lowe and Wright, 1964)
       
Original Description
Aspidoscelis T.W. Reeder et al. 2002

Cnemidophorus flagellicaudus
Lowe and Wright, 1964 - Journ. Arizona Acad. Sci., Vol. 3, p. 79

Cnemidophorus sonorae Lowe and Wright, 1964 - Journ. Arizona Acad. Sci., Vol. 3, p. 80

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Aspidoscelis = "shield-leg" from the Ancient Greek aspido- ("shield") and skelos ("leg").

From Wickipedia 8/6/16

Flagellicauda = flagellum
whip and NL caudus tailed — references the long slender tail, typical of genus.

Sonorae =
of the Sonoran Desert — references the region of occurrence.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names

None.

Related or Similar California Herps
A. t. stejnegeri - Coastal Whiptail
A. t. munda - California Whiptail
A. t. tigris - Great Basin Whiptail

More Information and References
Herpetological Review47(2), 2016

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors. Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Lizards, Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, 1946.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.




Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking None
NatureServe State Ranking None
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN None


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