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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Northern Desert Iguana - Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis

(Baird and Girard, 1852)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Northern Desert Iguana California Range Map
Range in California: Red


observation link



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Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
  Adult, Kern County  
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County Adult, Imperial County Adult, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Diego County Adult, emerging from burrow,
San Diego County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County Underside of adult male, San Diego County, showing breeding coloration Juvenile, San Bernardino County Adult at burrow, Imperial County.
© Michael Clarkson
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult foraging in a flowering bush in the spring, Riverside County.
© Bruce Montgomery
Adult, San Diego County Adult, Imperial County © Patrick Briggs
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, San Diego County, (with the tip of its tail re-grown) Juvenile, Kern County Desert Iguana tracks into a burrow hole, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
Adult, Kern County, eating a desert willow flower.
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Great Basin Collared Lizard  
Adult, Yuma County, Arizona Adult from San Bernardino County lava beds with a re-grown tail.
© Anastasia Dimitriu Shupp

Desert Iguanas have small granular scales on the back with a row of slightly larger keeled scales on the middle of the back.

 
Habitat
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Creosote flats habitat, Riverside County Habitat, rocky wash, Inyo County Habitat, Yuha Desert, Imperial County
Sand dunes habitat, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Sandy wash habitat,
San Bernardino County
Sandy wash habitat, San Diego County Habitat, lava field, San Bernardino County Dunes habitat during spring wildflower bloom, Imperial County
Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat Northern Desert Iguana Habitat
Habitat, Imperial County

Building mural, 29 Palms, San Bernardino County Habitat, Imperial County
Short Videos
Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana Northern Desert Iguana
A large adult desert iguana gets used to me and the camera and lets me get very close before he crawls away and does a few push-ups. I crawled under a bush with the same friendly iguana seen to the left and tossed him a desert willow flower which he gobbled up for the camera. More fun than feeding squirrels in the park. Several Northern Desert Iguanas
in the Colorado Desert.
A Northern Desert Iguana darts around and does a territorial push-up display.
Northern Desert Iguana      
A juvenile desert iguana
in the Mohave desert.
     
Description

Size
4 - 5 3/4 inches long from snout to vent (10 - 14.6 cm).
Appearance
A large lizard with a very long tail and a small head with a blunt nose. Scales are small and granular except for a row of enlarged keeled scales on the middle of the back which form a crest which extends to near the end of the tail.

Color is pale beige or gray with reddish-brown markings, creating the appearance of a dark background with pale round spots, sometimes forming bands, along with irregular broken lengthwise dark markings. Dark markings form rings around the tail. Underside is pale with reddish or buffy areas on the sides of the belly during breeding season. Juveniles often have a more strongly contrasted pattern than adults.
Behavior
Active in daytime. Often seen on rocks basking in the hot sun. Able to tolerate very high temperatures, higher than any other North American reptile. Frequently active after high temperatures force other lizards to seek shelter. A very fast runner. Feeds by climbing branches of creosote bushes and other plants. Seeks refuge in burrows, often located at the base of creosote bushes. Hibenates in burrows during the winter.
Diet
Eats mostly plant material - leaves, flower buds, and flowers. Creosote bush is a staple food. Also eats insects, carrion, fecal pellets.
Reproduction
Breeds from April to July. Female lays a clutch of 3 - 8 eggs from June to August.
Range
Occurs primarily where creosote scrub occurs, on the desert sides of Southern California mountiains, and the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in the Owens Valley, to the Arizona, Nevada, and Baja California Borders. Below sea level to around 5,000 ft. (1,520 m).

Ranges farther north into Nevada and southeast Utah, east into Arizona and south to the tip of Baja California and along the west coast of the mainland Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa almost as far south as the tip of the Baja peninsula.
Habitat
Creosote bush flats, scrub, dunes, washes, streambeds, floodplains. Most common in sandy areas. Occurs in rocky areas with sandy hummocks.
Taxonomic Notes
Subspecies of Dipsosaurus dorsalis are not recognized by all herpetologists. D. d. dorsalis is the only form occuring north of Mexico.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None.

Taxonomy
Family Iguanidae Iguanian Lizards Oppel, 1811
Genus Dipsosaurus Desert Iguana Hallowell, 1854
Species dorsalis Desert Iguana (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Subspecies


dorsalis Northern Desert Iguana (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Original Description
(Baird and Girard, 1852) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 126

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Dipsosaurus - Greek dipsos thirst and saurus lizard - refers to the dry region they inhabit
dorsalis
- bbb

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

Alternate Names
Dipsosaurus dorsalis - Desert Iguana (no subspecies recognized)

Related or Similar California Lizards
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard

More Information and References
Natureserve Explorer

California Dept. of Fish and Game

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.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

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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