Desert iguana

Desert iguana
Desert iguana[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Lacertilia
Family: Iguanidae
Genus: Dipsosaurus
Species: D. dorsalis
Binomial name
Dipsosaurus dorsalis
(Baird and Girard), 1852

The desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) is one of the most common lizards of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. They also occur on several Gulf of California islands.



The species was first described in the Catalog of North American Reptiles, by Spencer Fullerton Baird and Charles Frédéric Girard, in 1853 as Crotaphytus dorsalis it was reclassified two years later as Dipsosaurus dorsalis by Edward Hallowell.[2] The generic name comes from a combination of two Greek words meaning "thirsty lizard": "Dipsa" (δίψα) for "thirsty", and "sauros" (σαῦρος) for "lizard". The specific name, "dorsalis", comes from the Latin word dorsum meaning "back", in reference to a row of enlarged keeled scales on the middle of the lizard's back which form a crest that extends almost to the tip of its tail. Dipsosaurus is a monotypic genus with D. dorsalis being its only recognized species.


The desert iguana is a blunt, medium-sized lizard which grows to 16 in (41 cm) including the tail.[3] They are pale gray-tan to cream in color with a light brown reticulated pattern on their backs and sides. Down the center of the back is a row of slightly-enlarged, keeled dorsal scales that become slightly larger as you move down the back. The reticulated pattern gives way to brown spots near the back legs, turning into stripes along the tail. The tail is usually around 1½ times longer than the body from snout to vent. The belly is pale. During the breeding season, the sides become pinkish in both sexes.


Their preferred habitat is largely contained within the range of the creosote bush, mainly dry, sandy desert scrubland below 3,300 ft (1,000 m). It can also be found in rocky streambeds up to 3300 ft. In the southern portion of its range this lizard lives in areas of arid subtropical scrub and tropical deciduous forest.

These lizards can withstand high temperatures and are out and about after other lizards have retreated into their burrows. They burrow extensively, and will often climb into shrubs for shelter and defense. Their burrows are usually constructed in the mounds of sand that accumulate around the bases of bushes like the creosote. They also often use ready-made burrows of kit foxes and desert tortoises.

Diet and reproduction

Mating takes place in the early spring. It is believed that only one clutch of eggs is laid each year, with each clutch having 3-8 eggs.[4] The hatchlings emerge around September.[4]

Desert iguanas are primarily herbivorous, eating buds, fruits and leaves of many annual and perennial plants.[4] They are especially attracted to the yellow flowers of the creosote bush.[4] They have also been reported to eat insects, feces (mammal and lizard) and carrion.[4]

Predators of these iguanas and their eggs are birds of prey, foxes, rats, Long-tailed Weasels, some snakes, and humans.[4]


  1. ^ "Dipsosaurus dorsalis". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 2 September 2008. 
  2. ^ Baird, S. F. and Girard, C. (1852). Characteristics of some new reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, part 2. Proceedings at the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia. 6: 125-129
  3. ^ Stebbins, Robert (2003). Western Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 338–339, 537. ISBN 0395982723. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Lemm, Jeffrey.(2006) Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press.
  • Frost, D.E. and R.E. Etheridge (1989) A Phylogenetic Analysis and Taxonomy of Iguanian Lizards (Reptilia: Squamata). Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. Misc. Publ. 81
  • Frost, D.R., R. Etheridge, D. Janies and T.A. Titus (2001) Total evidence, sequence alignment, evolution of Polychrotid lizards, and a reclassification of the Iguania (Squamata: Iguania). American Museum Novitates 3343: 38 pp.

External links

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  • desert iguana — noun small long tailed lizard of arid areas of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico • Syn: ↑Dipsosaurus dorsalis • Hypernyms: ↑iguanid, ↑iguanid lizard • Member Holonyms: ↑Dipsosaurus, ↑genus Dipsosaurus …   Useful english dictionary

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