A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

California Whiptails - genus Aspidoscelis

(formerly genus Cnemidophorus)

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Whiptails are medium-sized, long, slim-bodied, diurnal, fast-moving, l lizards with long thin tails. They are typically found in hot, dry, flat open spaces in deserts or semi-arid areas. Whiptails can be striped, or spotted, or both. Typically, they are seen on the ground running in open spots from bush to bush, but rarely climbing on rocks or vegetation. Normally, you will see one walking slowly with a jerky motion from bush to bush, occasionally digging or scratching the ground looking for insects. When you get too close, they will run quickly away from you for a short distance, then continue walking from bush to bush. Rarely do they stop completely, unless they run into a hole.

Two whiptail species occur in California, The Orange-throated Whiptail, Aspidoscelis hyperythra, and the Tiger Whiptail, Aspidosceleis tigris.

Where they overlap in coastal Southern California, these two species are easy to tell apart, because the Orange-throated whiptail has distinct, solid lengthwise stripes, orange on the throat, and a bluish tail, while the Tiger Whiptail has a more checkered or spotted appearance with these spots sometimes forming broken stripes.

There are three subspecies of the Tiger Whiptail which are difficult to differentiate. Check the range map to determine which subpecies is in your area.

Tiger Whiptail - Aspidoscelis tigris

Three similar subspecies found in California
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Great Basin Whiptail
Aspidoscelis tigris tigris
Coastal Whiptail
Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri
California Whiptail
Aspidoscelis tigris munda
  Juveniles of this species have distinct stripes and a blue tail.
© Karyn Sieglitz

Orange: California Tiger Whiptail
Blue: Coastal Whiptail
Red: Great Basin Whiptail

Orange-throated Whiptail - Aspidoscelis hyperythra beldingi

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  Juveniles have a bright blue tail, which might cause you to confuse them with a juvenile skink.  
Orange-throated Whiptail - Aspisdoscelis hyperythra beldingi
The smaller size, a dark back with distinct light stripes, a blueish tail and orange on the throat will differentiate this whiptail from the Coastal Whiptail which sometimes shares its habitat in coastal Southern California. This whiptail is sometimes mistaken for a Western Skink, and vice versa. The skink will be more rounded, with more stripes that are thinner, and with a shorter, fatter snout, and a fatter tail. Breeding skinks will have orange under the throat, so do not let that confuse you. Also, juvenile Orange-throated whiptails may not have orange on the throat.

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The orange-throated whiptail might be confused with a Coronado Skink, which occurs in the same areas, but the whiptail has more light stripes and they are thinner, along with other differences. Click the picture above to see a closer comparison.

Juvenile tiger whiptails, like the one shown above, with their distinct stripes and blue tail, can also be confused with orange-throated whiptails, but they have fewer stripes on the back and males do not have an orange throat.  

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