Nevada is known for having a healthy variety of reptilian neighbors. You may have heard of the more familiar species like the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum), but what about the chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater)? The common chuckwalla is a large, flat-bodied lizard that lives in rocky areas throughout southern Nevada. These lizards can grow as large as 20 inches in length, weigh up to two pounds, and can live up to 15 years.

Coloration of these desert lizards varies by location, sex, and age. Females, though generally less colorful than their male counterparts, are brownish with dark red spots. The head, chest, and pelvic areas of males are black, and their tales are a light yellow. Males can even vary in color slightly depending on location — ranging from light gray to black with red, yellow, or orange hues. Juvenile chuckwallas have broad bands distributed across their body and tail which eventually fade as they mature. However, females may retain these bands on their tails.

Being ectothermic, chuckwallas are reliant on external sources of heat to warm themselves on a chilly day. As such, it is not unusual to find these large reptiles basking on a sunny rock, trying to warm their bones. This also explains why these animals are diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day. If you should see a chuckwalla in the wild, have no fear! They are harmless to people. However, as with all wildlife, it is best to not disturb them, but to appreciate them from afar.

Denise Peterson

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