A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail - Aspidoscelis sonorae

(Lowe and Wright 1964)

(Originally identified as hybrids of two species - Aspidoscelis flagellicaudus and Aspidoscelis sonorae)
Click on a picture for a larger view

Aspidoscelis mapRed: Range in California where this
non-native lizard has become established.

Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names

If you see a lizard that looks like this living in the wild anywhere
in California please contact me and send a picture if you can.

List of Non-Native Reptiles and Amphibians
Established in California

observation link

This species 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
© William Flaxington
Juvenile, Orange County
© William Flaxington
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
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
This small juvenile found in Orange County is thought to be a juvenile alien whiptail and not a native Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail due to the fact that its tail is not blue, but I could be wrong. Belding's juveniles of this size should have a blue tail.They lose the blue color as they age, but I don't know at exactly what size they lose it. © Kevin Lentz Juvenile, Orange County
© William Flaxington
Sonoran Spotted Whiptails From Their Native Range
Gila Spotted Whiptail Gila Spotted Whiptail Gila Spotted Whiptail
Cochise County, Arizona Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
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
Cochise County, Arizona Pajarito Mountains, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Santa Rita Mountains,
Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Short Videos of Whiptails in Their Native Habitat
Gila Spotted Whiptail Sonoran Spotted Whiptail  
An adult Sonoran Spotted Whiptail crawls along the ground in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.
Sonoran Spotted Whiptails in
Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
All life history and behavioral information is based on the two species as observed in their natural habitat.

The average snout to vent length is approximately 3.5 inches (9 cm).

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

This information is based on previous descriptions of two species which were merged into one - Aspidoscelis flagellicauda and Aspidoscelis sonorae.

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.
Juveniles are similar to adults but have few spots and the contrast between the light stripes and the dark fields is greater.

Life History and Behaviors

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
All members of this species are females that do not need males to fertilize their eggs. They reproduce with unfertilized eggs. The eggs hatch into genetically identical female lizards.

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

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

Found in oak and pine and pinyon/juniper evergreen woodlands, interior chaparral, sometimes in semi-desert grasslands, desert scrub, and seems to prefer riparian corridors.

Geographical Range

Range In California

These alien whiptails have been found in Orange County in Irvine, Lake Forest, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, and Laguna Woods, and they appear to be spreading quickly.

Striped non-native whiptails have also been found in Sacramento and in a few locations northeast of Sacramento, but it has not yet been determined if they are the same mixed species as these, nor has it been determined yet if they are established.

Native Range (Shown on map below)

Ranges across central and southeast Arizona into New Mexico with an isolated poulation in the Chiricahua and Catalina Mountains of Arizona, and south into the northern parts of the states of Chihuahua and Sonora in Mexico.

whiptails map
Native Elevational Range

Found primarily between 700 and 7000 feet elevation (215 to 2130 meters).

Taxonomic Notes
Name Change

Taylor et al (2018) relegated A. flagellicaudus (Lowe and Wright 1964) to the synonymy of A. sonorae (Lowe and Wright 1964). Their study found that the formal descriptions of Aspidoscelis flagellicaudus and Aspidoscilis sonorae were extremely brief and confirmation that they were two legitimate natural species is lacking. They found that color pattern, preanal scale arrangements and other traditional methods for differentiating the two species are not effective and concluded that the two species are different pattern classes of one species, Aspidoscelis sonorae.

(Harry L. Taylor, Charles J. Cole, Carol R. Townsend.
Relegation of Aspidoscelis flagellicaudus to the Synonymy of the Parthenogenetic Teiid Lizard A. sonorae Based on Morphological Evidence and a Review of Relevant Genetic Data
Herpetological Review 49(4), 2018 )


In April 2015 a population of alien whiptails observeds in Irvine in May 2014 was reported on

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. (I have received other reports that they are well-established there now.)

According to Winkleman and Backlin "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, [it was later shown that they are not extirpated from the site] we feel that identification to species is not significant and may not be possible without nuclear sequence data due to the aforementioned circumstances." *

* (Ryan S. Winkleman & Adam R. Backlin, Herpetological Review 47(2), 2016)

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.
Family Teiidae Whiptails and Racerunners Gray, 1827
Genus Aspidoscelis
(formerly Cnemidophorus)
Whiptails Fitzinger, 1843
Species A. sonorae Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Lowe and Wright, 1964)
Original Description
Aspidoscelis T.W. Reeder et al. 2002

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

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

The lizards introduced into California were originally identified as hybrids of two whiptail species - Aspidoscelis flagellicaudus - Gila Spotted Whiptail and Aspidoscelis sonorae - Sonoran Spotted Whiptail.

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 conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July 2022 State of California "Special Animals List" and the July 2022 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and can be downloaded here:
You can check this link to see if there are more current lists.

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found on the
Special Animals List. For quick reference, I have copied some of them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
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

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