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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California



Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
-
Callisaurus draconoides rhodostictus

Cope, 1896
Click on a picture for a larger view



Western Zebra-tailed Lizard California Range Map
Range in California: Red


observation link



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Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult female, Kern County Adult female, Kern County Adult male, Kern County
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult male, San Diego County Adult female, Kern County Adult male, Kern County
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult male from dark lava flow area,
San Bernardino County
Adult female, Kern County Juvenile, Kern County
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult male, San Diego County
© Bruce Edley
Adult male, San Bernardino County
© Brad Alexander
Adult female, Kern County, missing the end of her tail.
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult male, Kern County © Todd Battey
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Underside of adult male,
San Diego County © Bruce Edley
Underside of adult male 
© Jackson Shedd
Adult male in threat display,
Clark County Nevada © David Walton

Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult male, Inyo County. © Carl R. Brune.
Males typically have two dark stripes on the sides and undersides, but this unusual male has three stripes.
Adult male, San Bernardino County, showing no stripes on the underside.
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard
Adult female, Riverside County © Dan Schroeter Adult male, San Bernardino County
© Jeff Ahrens
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Great Basin Collared Lizard
Adult male, Inyo County.

Zebra-tailed lizards are very tolerant of extreme heat. The air temperature was 100 degrees F. when this lizard was seen out in the sun on top of a rock. The temperature of the rock was 130 degrees F. ! (54.44 C.)

Adult female, Kern County
This close-up shows the fringed protective scales around the eyes, the third eye on top of the head, and the ear on side of the head behind the eye.


Zebra-tailed Lizards, genus Callisaurus, have smooth granular scales above.

Habitat
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat
Habitat, sandy wash, San Diego County Habitat, sandy wash during a good spring wildflower bloom (1998), Riverside County
Habitat, Kern County
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat
Habitat, windblown sand and sandy wash, San Bernardino County
Habitat, lava flow,
San Bernardino County
Habitat, rocky wash, Inyo County
  Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Habitat  
  Inland  habitat, creek flowing out of San Gabriel Mountains near Cajon Pass, Riverside County

 
Short Videos
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Western Zebra-tailed Lizard  
This video shows several views of zebra-tailed lizards from the Colorado Desert in San Diego County, waving their striped tails to divert attention away from their main body, running off quickly, and doing the territorial push-up display. One early afternoon during a summer cold front in the Mohave Desert in Kern County, I was able to get close to several zebra-tailed lizards and follow them around as they moved relatively slowly compared to how fast they move when it's hot.  
Description

Size
2.5 - 4 inches from snout to vent (6 - 10 cm), up to almost 9 inches including tail.
Appearance
A pale thin lizard with very long legs and a long flat tail with black crossbars. Scales are granular.
Gray or light brown above with light spots and paired dark blotches, which are more distinct on females.
As with many lizards, the coloring is darker during lower temperatures, and lighter with very high temperatures.

Dark crossbars or bands on the tail become very distinct black and white underneath. This black and white zebra-like pattern gives this lizard its name.

There is pale yellow and orange coloring on the sides and the center of the throat often has a pink or orange spot.

Males have two dark bars and develop a patch of blue-green coloring on the sides of the mid belly, which is visible when viewed from the side, during the breeding season. Dark belly markings are faint or absent on females.
Behavior
Diurnal. Tolerant of high temperatures. Often seen basking on rocks, even on extremely hot afternoons.
Capable of running very fast (possibly the fastest lizard in the desert) facilitated by long legs and streamlined body. After speeding away, this lizard sometimes stops far ahead in the open, but it will also run to the far side of a bush, out of view, or into a bush or burrow for protection. Before running, a lizard may curl the tail up towards the back, exposing the black and white bars, and wag it nervously wag, then continue this behavior while running and after stopping. This tail display tactic concentrates a predator's attention on the tail, which, if attacked and broken off, can grow back.
A countersunk lower jaw makes it easier for this lizard to burrow into loose or sandy soil to rest.
Diet
Small invertebrates such as insects and spiders, small lizards, occasional plant material.
Reproduction
Mates in Spring, lays eggs June - August.
Range
In California, this lizard inhabits the Mojave and Colorado Deserts up to the desert slopes of the Peninsular and Transverse Mountains, and from the Owens Valley north along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Found on the coastal slopes of the mountains at San Jacinto Wash and Cajon Wash. Ranges outside California north into northern Nevada, east into extreme southwest Utah, south through Arizona and extreme southwest New Mexico, to Baja California and the west coast of Mexico.
Habitat
Open sandy desert washes, desert pavement, and hard pan, with scant widely-spaced vegetation and open areas. Sometimes found in wind-blown sand dunes near hard-packed ground.
Taxonomic Notes
Subspecies of Callisaurus draconoides are not universally recognized. Many herpetologists recognize three occuring in the United States - C. d. rhodostictus, C. d. myurus - Northern Zebra-tailed Lizard, and C. d. ventralis - Eastern (or Arizona) Zebra-tailed Lizard. Others classify this lizard as Callisaurus draconoides draconoides - Common Zebra-tailed Lizard.

Taxonomy
Family Phrynosomatidae Zebra-tailed, Earless, Fringe-toed, Spiny, Tree, Side-blotched, and Horned Lizards Fitzinger, 1843
Genus Callisaurus Zebra-tailed Lizards Blainville, 1835
Species draconoides Zebra-tailed Lizard Blainville, 1835
Subspecies


rhodostictus Western Zebra-tailed Lizard Cope, 1896
Original Description
Callisaurus draconoides - Blainville, 1835 - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 286, pl. 24, fig. 2
Callisaurus draconoides rhodostictus - Cope, 1896 - Amer. Nat., Vol. 30, p. 1049

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Callisaurus - Greek kalos beautiful and saurus lizard - "we have given the name Callisaurus to indicate the extreme beauty of this little animal."
draconoides
- Greek draco dragon and -eidos similarity to a - the species of true dragons
rhodostictus - Greek rhodon - rose, red color and Greek stiktos - dotted or dappled

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

Alternate Names
Mojave Zebratail Lizard

Common Gridiron-tailed Lizard

Callisaurus draconoides draconoides - Common Zebra-tailed Lizard

Related or Similar California Lizards
Uma notata - Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard
Uma inornata - Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard
Uma scoparia - Mojave Fringe-toed 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.

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
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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