Arizona Striped Whiptail

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Today I’m posting an image of something unusual.  This lizard is an Arizona Striped Whiptail.

There are many species of Whiptail Lizards, so named because of their long, whip-like tails.  There are at least three or four Whiptail species that one sees in the Tucson area.  However, Arizona Striped Whiptails are not native to the Tucson area.  They may be found only in a unique and very narrowly circumscribed habitat, a few dozen square miles of native grasslands in the Sulphur Springs Valley and in the vicinity of Willcox, Arizona, about 60 miles southeast of Tucson.  They aren’t exactly rare — they’re common within their unique range — but they are nevertheless unusual because one never sees them elsewhere.

I was with a friend, Ned Harris, when we saw this individual — one of several scurrying around in the brush — in the Kansas Settlement area of the Sulphur Springs Valley.  He and I had the same initial reaction.  We’d never seen a Whiptail with a blue face, chin, and belly as this individual displays.  Nor had we ever seen a Whiptail with a tail that is so long in relation to its body.  Whiptails commonly have very long tails, but this individual has a tail that is long even by Whiptail Standards.

Some species of Whiptail breed asexually, meaning that all members of that species are females.  Arizona Striped Whiptails reproduce sexually.  Again, that doesn’t make them rare but it does set them apart from other Whiptail species.

These lizards are diurnal, meaning that one only sees them in daytime.  From nose to tip of tail one of them is about eight or nine inches long.  According to the guides, they are only active during late spring and July, meaning that they rest dormant for much of the year.  Ned and I found this individual in mid-July.

A species like this one is extremely vulnerable to habitat loss.  The Sulphur Springs Valley and the area around Willcox are largely devoted to agriculture but there remain intact areas of native grasslands, which the Arizona Striped Whiptails inhabit.  Intensification of agriculture or development of the land for commercial purposes could easily eliminate the lizards’ habitat and quickly drive this species to extinction.

Image made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f6.3 @ 1/2500.

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