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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Northern Desert Iguana - Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis

(Baird and Girard, 1852)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Northern Desert Iguana California Range Map
Range in California: Red




observation link





Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, Kern County Adult, Kern County Adult, Kern County Adult, San Diego County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
  Adult, Kern County  
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County Adult, Imperial County Adult, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County Adult, emerging from burrow,
San Diego County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult at burrow opening in sand dunes habitat, Imperial County Adult at burrow, Imperial County.
© Michael Clarkson
Adult, San Diego County Adult, Imperial County © Patrick Briggs
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County, (with the tip of its tail re-grown) Underside of adult male, San Diego County, showing breeding coloration Adult from San Bernardino County lava beds with a re-grown tail.
© Anastasia Dimitriu Shupp

Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Great Basin Collared Lizard
Adult, Yuma County, Arizona A mating pair in San Bernardino County
© Keith Condon
Building mural, 29 Palms, San Bernardino County Desert Iguanas have small granular scales on the back with a row of slightly larger keeled scales on the middle of the back.
       
Juveniles
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana  
Juvenile, Kern County Juvenile, San Bernardino County Juvenile, Kern County  
       
Feeding
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, Kern County, eating a desert willow flower.
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana    
Adult foraging in a flowering bush in the spring, Riverside County.
© Bruce Montgomery
   
       
Habitat
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Creosote flats habitat, Riverside County Habitat, rocky wash, Inyo County Habitat, Yuha Desert, Imperial County
Sand dunes habitat, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Sandy wash habitat,
San Bernardino County
Sandy wash habitat, San Diego County Habitat, lava field, San Bernardino County Dunes habitat during spring wildflower bloom, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Mohave Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Adult at burrow opening in sand dunes habitat, Imperial County Sand dunes habitat,
San Bernardino County
Habitat, Imperial County Habitat, Imperial County
Sandstone Night Lizard Habitat Northern Desert Iguana    
Habitat, San Diego County Desert Iguana tracks leading into a burrow, Imperial County    
       
Short Videos
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
A large adult desert iguana gets used to me and the camera and lets me get very close before he crawls away and does a few push-ups. I crawled under a bush with the same friendly iguana seen to the left and tossed him a desert willow flower which he gobbled up for the camera. I noticed several desert iguanas wandering around under palo verde and desert willow trees on a very hot late Spring afternoon in a small desert park. I decided to pick some of the remaining flowers on the trees and toss them to the iguanas, which readily ate them up.
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana  
A juvenile desert iguana
in the Mohave desert.
Several Northern Desert Iguanas
in the Colorado Desert.
A Northern Desert Iguana darts around and does a territorial push-up display.  
     
Description
 
Size
4 - 5 3/4 inches long from snout to vent (10 - 14.6 cm).

Appearance
A large lizard with a very long tail and a small head with a blunt nose.
Scales are small and granular except for a row of enlarged keeled scales on the middle of the back which form a crest which extends to near the end of the tail.
Color and Pattern
Color is pale beige or gray with reddish-brown markings, creating the appearance of a dark background with pale round spots, sometimes forming bands, along with irregular broken lengthwise dark markings.
Dark markings form rings around the tail.
Underside is pale with reddish or buffy areas on the sides of the belly during breeding season.
Young
Juveniles often have a more strongly contrasted pattern than adults.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active in daytime.
Often seen on rocks basking in the hot sun.
Able to tolerate very high temperatures, higher than any other North American reptile.
Frequently active after high temperatures force other lizards to seek shelter.
A very fast runner.
Seeks refuge in burrows, often located at the base of creosote bushes.
Hibenates in burrows during the winter.
Diet and Feeding
Eats mostly plant material - leaves, flower buds, and flowers.
Creosote bush is a staple food.
Also eats insects, carrion, fecal pellets.
Feeds by climbing branches of creosote bushes and other plants.
Breeding
Breeds from  April to July.
Female lays a clutch of 3 - 8 eggs from June to August.

Habitat
Creosote bush flats, scrub, dunes, washes, streambeds, floodplains. Most common in sandy areas. Occurs in rocky areas with sandy hummocks.

Geographical Range
Occurs primarily where creosote scrub occurs, on the desert sides of Southern California mountiains, and the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in the Owens Valley, to the Arizona, Nevada, and Baja California Borders.

Ranges farther north into Nevada and southeast Utah, east into Arizona and south to the tip of Baja California and along the west coast of the mainland Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa almost as far south as the tip of the Baja peninsula.
Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
From below sea level to around 5,000 ft. (1,520 m).

Notes on Taxonomy
Subspecies of Dipsosaurus dorsalis are not recognized by all herpetologists.
D. d. dorsalis
is the only form occurring north of Mexico.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Dipsosaurus dorsalis
- Desert Iguana (Stebbins, 1985, 2003)
Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis - Desert Iguana (Stebbins, 1966)
Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis - Western Crested Lizard (Stebbins, 1954)
Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis - Northern Crested Lizard (Smith 1946)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Iguanidae Iguanian Lizards Oppel, 1811
Genus Dipsosaurus Desert Iguana Hallowell, 1854
Species dorsalis Desert Iguana (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Subspecies

dorsalis Northern Desert Iguana (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Original Description
(Baird and Girard, 1852) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 126

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Dipsosaurus - Greek dipsos thirst and saurus lizard - refers to the dry region they inhabit
dorsalis
- bbb

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

Related or Similar California Lizards
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

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

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

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.


This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
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


 

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