Angel Island chuckwalla

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Angel Island chuckwalla[1]
Sauromalus hispidus - Reptilium Landau.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Iguanidae
Genus: Sauromalus
Species: S. hispidus
Binomial name
Sauromalus hispidus
Stejneger, 1891
Sauromalus hispidus distribution.png

The Angel Island chuckwalla (Sauromalus hispidus) (also known as the spiny chuckwalla) is a species of chuckwalla lizard belonging to the Iguanidae family endemic to Isla Ángel de la Guarda (Angel Island) in the Sea of Cortés. The species was transported to other islands by a tribe of the Seri as a potential food source.

Taxonomy and etymology[edit]

The generic name, sauromalus, is a combination of two Ancient Greek words:σαῦρος (sauros) meaning "lizard". and ομαλυς (omalus) meaning "flat".[3] Its specific name hispidus is Latin for "coarse" or "thorny" in reference to the spines on the chuckwalla's tail.[4][5]

The common name chuckwalla derives from the Shoshone word "tcaxxwal" or Cahuilla "caxwal", transcribed by Spaniards as "chacahuala".


The Angel Island chuckwalla is the second largest species of chuckwalla reaching 44 centimetres (17 in) in body length, 64 centimetres (25 in) overall length and weighing up to 1.4 kilograms (3.1 lb).[4] It is considered a gigantic species as it is two to three times the size of its mainland counterparts.[4][6] Its body color is a dark brown color with tranverse black bands which fade into a solid darker brown to black color as the animal ages.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Angel Island chuckwalla is endemic to Isla Ángel de la Guarda (Angel Island) and ten smaller islands in the Sea of Cortés.[4]

Behavior and reproduction[edit]

Harmless to humans, these lizards are known to run from potential threats.[7] When disturbed, the chuckwalla will inflate its lungs, distend its body and wedge itself into a tight rock crevice.[7][8]

Males are seasonally and conditionally territorial; an abundance of resources tends to create a hierarchy based on size, with one large male dominating the area's smaller males.[7] Chuckwallas defend their territory and communicate with one another using a combination of colour and physical displays, namely "push ups", head-hobbing, and gaping of the mouth.[7]

Angel Island chuckwallas are diurnal animals and as they are exothermic, spend much of their mornings and winter days basking.[7] These lizards are well adapted to desert conditions; they are active at temperatures of up to 102°F (39°C).[7]

Mating occurs from April to July, with 5–16 eggs laid between June and August. The eggs hatch in late September.[7] Chuckwallas may live for 25 years or more.

Human use[edit]

The Comca’ac considered this species of chuckwalla an important food item.[9] So much so, that the lizards were translocated to most of the islands in Bahia de los Angeles: Isla San Lorenzo Norte, Isla San Lorenzo Sur, and Tiburón Island by the Seri people for use as a food source in times of need.[4]


  1. ^ "Sauromalus hispidus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 15 September 2008. 
  2. ^ Montgomery, C.E. & Mayer, G.C. (2010). "Sauromalus hispidus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Schwenkmeyer, Dick. "Sauromalus ater Common Chuckwalla". Field Guide. San Diego Natural History Museum. Retrieved 17 September 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Case, T. J. (1982). Ecology and evolution of insular gigantic chuckwallas, Sauromalus hispidus and Sauromalus varius. Iguanas of the World (Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Publications). pp. 184–212. ISBN 0-8155-0917-0. 
  5. ^ Hollingsworth, Bradford D. (2004). The Evolution of Iguanas an Overview and a Checklist of Species. Iguanas: Biology and Conservation (University of California Press). pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-520-23854-1. 
  6. ^ Smits, A. W. (1985). "Behavioral and dietary responses to aridity in the chuckwalla, Sauromalus hispidus". Journal of Herpetology. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Stebbins, Robert C.,(2003) A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-98272-3
  8. ^ Deban, S.M., J.C. O’Reilly, and T.C. Theimer 1994. Mechanism of defensive inflation in the chuckwalla, Sauromalus obesus. Journal of Experimental Zoology 270: 451-459.
  9. ^ Richard Felger and Mary B. Moser (1985) People of the desert and sea: ethnobotany of the Seri Indians Tucson: University of Arizona Press.