Discover Chuckwalla Fun Facts

Western Chuckwalla

Chuckwallas can be found throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, though some species dwell only on islands off the coast of California and Baja California. They prefer rocky, dry habitats populated with drought-resistant scrub brush.

They have adapted well to living in the desert. Chuckwallas are active during the day. They will be out at temperatures up to 102 degrees and only emerge from their winter hibernation when the temperature reaches 90 degrees. They spend their winters in underground crevices and burrows.


Green ChuckwallaFemales lay their eggs in burrows, as well. The young chuckwallas hatch in September and are independent from that point. They grow incredibly slowly, at a rate of less than an inch per year. It takes a chuckwalla about 25 years to reach their adult size. They continue to grow throughout their life but at a reduced rate after 25. When food is plentiful, they will grow larger.

These lizards are primarily herbivorous. Most of their diet is comprised of flowers, leaves, and fruit. Their favorite flowers seem to be yellow ones. Sometimes they will supplement their diet with insects. In times with a high abundance of food, a hierarchy based on size will fall into place and the chuckwallas become territorial. In times of food scarcity, they are not territorial and have a hierarchy based on access to food. Males pursue more than one female every year, between April and August. However, if there isn’t much food, it is possible that no mating will occur.



Full Grown ChuckwallaThe chuckwallas who live in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts usually only grow to 16 inches long. The San Esteban chuckwalla, though, which lives on San Esteban Island in Mexico, can get to be 30 inches long. Males have yellow, orange, and grey bodies with black heads, shoulders, and legs. Females and juveniles have light and dark grey stripes and spots.

When threatened, chuckwallas flatten and wedge themselves into tight rocky crevices. They pose no threat to humans. Chuckwallas’ genus name, Sauromalus, is derived from two Greek words: “sauros”, which means lizard, and “homalos”, which means flat, alluding to these lizards’ ability to flatten themselves to hide. The name chuckwalla comes from a Shosone word “tcaxxwal”, which was transcribed into Spanish as “chacahuala”.


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