A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Tiger Whiptail - Aspidoscelis tigris

San Diegan Tiger Whiptail - Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri

(Van Denburgh, 1894)

(= Coastal Whiptail; = Cnemidophorus tigris stejnegeri)
Click on a picture for a larger view
Tiger Whiptails California Range MapDark Blue: Range of this subspecies in California
Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri - San Diegan Tiger Whiptail

Range of other subspecies in California:

: Range of Aspidoscelis tigris munda -
California Whiptail

: Range of Aspidoscelis tigris tigris
Great Basin Whiptail

Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names

observation link

Coastal Whiptail
Adult, San Diego County
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail
  Adult, San Diego County  
Coastal Whiptail
Coastal Whiptail
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail
Adult, San Diego County. Specimen courtesy of Robert Applegate
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail
Adult, San Diego County © Jay Keller Adult, San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County. © Mike Ryan Adult, Ventura County
© Stacey Bergman
Adult, Riverside County
© Nick Barrientos
Whiptail Eye Whiptail Eye Whiptail tracks Great Basin Collared Lizard
Eye open on the left, and eye closed, on the right,
showing the transparent lower eyelid of this species.
Whiptail Tracks in sand Whiptails, genus Aspidoscelis, have small granular dorsal scales.
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake
Adult eating a potato bug, Los Angeles County © Joel A. Germond Adult eating a Jerusalem Cricket in the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County © Max Roberts A Coast Patch-nosed Snake trying to kill and eat a San Diegan Tiger Whiptail in San Diego County © Tom Day
Coastal Whiptail
Copulating adults,
Baja California
Pigment Aberrations
Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail Coastal Whiptail  
Albino juvenile, Riverside County © Cooper Bailey  
Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, eastern San Diego County
Habitat, 3000 ft., San Diego County Coastal habitat, San Diego County

Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat Coastal Whiptail Habitat
Habitat, Riverside County Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Habitat, western San Bernardino County
Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat Great Basin Fence Lizard Habitat    
Habitat, Santa Ana Mountains,
Riverside County
Habitat, Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County © Grigory Heaton    
Short Video
Coastal Whiptail      
After being released, a Coastal Whiptail remains motionless for a short time before it slowly comes to life and races into the bushes faster than the camera can track it. It was found in a pit trap, then measured and marked in case of re-capture. The shock of the ordeal and the morning chill must have contributed to its initial sluggishness and disorientation.      
Aspidoscelis tigris as a species is 2 3/8 - 5 inches inches long snout to vent (6 - 12.7 cm), up to around 13 inches (33 cm) total length.

A slim-bodied lizard with a long slender tail, a pointed snout, and large symmetrical head plates.
Scales on the back are small and granular, and scales on the tail are keeled.
The belly is made of large, smooth, rectangular scales in 8 lengthwise rows.
The tail can reach up to two times the length of the body.
Color and Pattern
The back and sides are grey, tan, or brown, marked with dark spots or bars or mottling, which is often very sharply defined.
Dark marks on the side don't form vertical bars.
Usually 8 poorly-defined light brown stripes are present, but stripes on the side are less well-defined.
The throat is pale with with large black spots.
Often there are reddish patches on the sides of the belly.
The tail tip is dark or bluish..
Some juveniles have fairly well-defined stripes, most notably in inland Orange County, but they also have other irregular spots and stripes that can be used to differentiate them from sympatric more fully-striped Aspidoscelis hyperythra.
In the San Diego area, juveniles are spotted.
The tail tip is bright blue on juveniles.

Life History and Behavior

Wary and very active, moving with abrupt stops and starts, side-to-side head movement, and tongue flicking.
Often seen digging rapidly when foraging.
Difficult to approach - typically foraging near cover, and capable of quick bursts of speed into heavy brush or holes.
Diet and Feeding
Small invertebrates, especially spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and termites, and small lizards.
Unlike some species of whiptails which are all females, there are male and female western whiptails.
Males and females usually begin mating in May and females lay eggs shortly thereafter.
Females lay one clutch of eggs per year.
Eggs hatch from May to August.

Found in a variety of ecosystems, primarily hot and dry open areas with sparse foliage - chaparral, woodland, and riparian areas.

Geographical Range
This subspecies is found in coastal Southern California, mostly west of the Peninsular Ranges and south of the Transverse Ranges, and north into Ventura County. Ranges south into Baja California.

The species (Aspidoscelis tigris) ranges from Oregon and southern Idaho, south through California and Nevada to Baja California, and east into Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico and south into Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico.

(My California range map shows a question mark in the northeast corner of the state. The California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife maps show the species present in much of Shasta, Siskiyou, Modoc, and Lassen Counties. The 2003 Stebbins field guide and the 2012 Stebbins & McGinnis field guide show a question mark in the area, as I do. I have searched museum records but I have found no records for A. tigris in Siskiyou or Modoc counties.)

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
The species is found at sea level to 7,000 ft. (2,130 m). This subspecies may differ somewhat.

Notes on Taxonomy

The common name of this subspecies of Tiger Whiptail has long been "Coastal Whiptail, including in the Sixth edition of the S.S.A.R. common and scientific names list published in 2008, which is the list I follow on this web site. In the Seventh edition of the S.S.A.R. list, published in 2012, the common name was changed to "San Diegan Tiger Whiptail" though the change was not explained. This common name is still in use (May 2019) on both the S.S.A.R. and the C.N.A.H. common names lists, however "Coastal Whiptail" is also still used elsewhere.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri - Coastal Whiptail (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Cnemidophorus tigris stejnegeri
- Coastal Whiptail (Stebbins 2003)
Cnemidophorus tigris multiscutatus
- Coastal Whiptail (Stebbins 1954, 1966, 1985)
Cnemidophorus tessselatus tesselatus - Common Tesselated Racerunner (Smith 1946)
Cnemidophorus tigris stejnegeri - Stejneger Whip-tailed Lizard (Cnemidophorus grahamii stejnegerii; Cnemidophorus tessellatus tessellatus, part, Cnemidophorus grahamiii; Cnemidophorus tigris undulatus, part. Graham's Striped Lizard; Stejneger's Whip-tail) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This lizard inhabits habitats in coastal southern California which have been altered and fragmented by development.
Family Teiidae Whiptails and Racerunners Gray, 1827
Genus Aspidoscelis Whiptails (formerly Cnemidophorus) Fitzinger, 1843
Species tigris Tiger Whiptail (Baird and Girard, 1852)

stejnegeri San Diegan Tiger Whiptail (Van Denburgh, 1894)
Original Description
Cnemidophorus tigris - Baird and Girard, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 69
Cnemidophorus tigris multiscutatus - Cope, "1892" 1893 - Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc., Vol. 17, p. 38

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

- Latin - of a tiger - refers to the dorsal pattern
stejnegeri - prob. honors Stejneger, Leonhard

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

Related or Similar California Lizards
Great Basin Whiptail - A. t. tigris
California Whiptail - A. t. munda
Belding's Orange-throated Whiptail - Aspidoscelis hyperythra beldingi

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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

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.

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.

Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July, 2023 State of California Special Animals List and the July 2023 Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California list (unless indicated otherwise below.) Both lists are produced by multiple agencies every year, and sometimes more than once per year. Because it is very time consuming to keep the listings up to date on this web site, the conservation status listing information found below might not be from the most recent lists. If it has been a long time since July, 2023, and you need to know the most recent listings, go to this California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page where you can search for and download both lists:

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found at the beginning of the two lists. For quick reference, I have included 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 also go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

The Special Animals List shows this lizard as Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri - Coastal Whiptail.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G5T5 Secure
NatureServe State Ranking S3 Vulnerable
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None


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