A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Wiggins' Night Lizard  - Xantusia wigginsi

Savage, 1952
Click on a picture for a larger view

Range in California: Red

observation link

Baja California Night Lizard Baja California Night Lizard Baja California Night Lizard
Adult, San Diego County, near Baja California border
Baja California Night Lizard Baja California Night Lizard Baja California Night Lizard
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County
Juvenile, San Diego County
Baja California Night Lizard Baja California Night Lizard  
Adult, Scissors Crossing, San Diego County © Jeff Nordland  
Desert Night Lizard Desert Night Lizard Night Lizard Scales
Adult, Scissors Crossing, San Diego County © Jeff Nordland
(This lizard has been identified as Xantusia vigilis, but since appearance alone cannot determine the species, this could be X. wigginsi.)
The Night Lizards, genus Xantusia, have small granular scales on soft skin.
X. henshawi is seen here.
Wiggins' Night Lizards from Baja California
Wiggins' Night Lizard Wiggins' Night Lizard Wiggins' Night Lizard
Adult, Desierto Central Adult, Desierto Central Adult, Desierto Central
  Wiggins' Night Lizard  
  Adult, Desierto Central  
Baja California Night Lizard Habitat Baja California Night Lizard Habitat  
Habitat, San Diego County,
near the Baja California border
Habitat, San Diego County,
near the Baja California border

are more pictures of this lizard and its habitat in Baja California

Adults grow up to 1.7 inches long from snout to vent (4.4 cm).

A small thin lizard with soft skin with fine granular scales on most of the body, a head covered with large plates, lidless eyes with vertical pupils, a gular fold, and a detachable tail.
Color and Pattern
Color is grayish brown to rusty brown with black spots, which sometimes fuse together to form thin lines.
The dark spots on the tail are larger.
Sometimes a lizard will be completely unspotted.
A narrow beige stripe, edged in black, usually extends from the eye to the shoulder and may extend along the sides of the entire body.
The underside is whitish-yellow and made up of large square scales.
Male / Female Differences
Males have enlarged femoral pores.

Life History and Behavior

Not much is known about X. wigginsi in California, or in Baja California.
It is certainly diurnal, sedentary, and rarely observed, spending most of its life undercover in and underneath fallen vegetation and debris, and not typically active on the surface away from cover.
According to Grismer it is probably active all year long with peaks of activity in the spring and fall.
(I have found them in mid December inland from Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja California del Norte.)
When frightened, runs away quickly and dashes under cover. The tail breaks off easily and continues wriggling to distract would-be predators as the lizard runs away as you can see in this video of X. vigilis.
This does not hurt the lizard, although it might suffer from the stress of attempted predation, the loss of fatty energy that is stored in the tail, and have difficulties finding a mate during breeding season due to a less healthy appearance.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small invertebrates inhabiting the decaying vegetation in which it lives including ants, termites, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, and spid
Usually gives birth to two young during the fall.

Habitat in California is rocky Desert scrub with abundant yucca.

Geographical Range
In California, found from Scissors Crossing in San Diego County, south to a location east of Jacumba, and farther south to the Vizcaino region of Baja California del Sur.
( To confuse matters, X. v. vigilis was also found south of Scissors Crossing in Mason Valley and Little Blair Valley.)

Full Species Range Map\
Notes on Taxonomy
Several subspecies of Xantusia vigilis were traditionally recognized before X. sierrae and X. wigginsi were elevated to full species, including three in California:
X. v. vigilis
X. v. sierrae
X. v. wigginsi in Baja California.

According to Grismer, 2002, X. vigilis occurs in the northern part of the Baja peninsula, while X. wigginsi occurs in the central peninsula. But Leavitt et al, 2007, using nuclear DNA studies, have found two populations of X. wigginsi in southeastern San Diego county. They also provide support for the recognition of X. wigginsi as a full species.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Xantusia vigilis wigginsi
Baja California Night Lizard

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Xantusiidae Night Lizards Baird, 1858
Genus Xantusia Night Lizards Baird, 1859 “1858”

Wiggins' Night Lizard Savage, 1952
Original Description
Xantusia vigilis - Baird, 1858 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 10, p. 255

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America.Ellin Beltz, 2003

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Xantusia - honors Xantus, John
- Latin - alert or watchful - possibly refers to the lack of eyelids
wigginsi - (Most likely named after ? Wiggins by Savage in 1952 when he described this subspecies.)

from Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America Ellin Beltz, 2003

Related or Similar California Lizards
X. henshawi - Granite Night Lizard
X. gracilis - Sandstone Night Lizard
X. sierrae - Sierra Night Lizard
X. vigilis - Yucca Night Lizard
X. r. reticulata - San Clemente Night 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.

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

McPeak, Ron H. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California. Sea Challengers, 2000.

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.

Multi-locus DNA sequence data reveal a history of deep cryptic vicariance and habitat-driven convergence in the desert night lizard Xantusia vigilis species complex (Squamata: Xantusiidae)
Molecular Ecology 16 (21), 4455–4481.

Studies on the Lizard Family Xantusiidae I. The Systematic Status of the Baja California Night Lizards Allied to Xantusia Vigilis, with the Description of a New Subspecies
Jay M. Savage
American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Sep., 1952), pp. 467-479

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, most likely because its occurance in California was only recently discovered.

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


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