Common Chuckwalla Fact File


The common chuckwalla is a lizard which has a body covered with scales. Across the body is dark scales with folds of skin on the neck and sides. Their coloration is variable across their range. The head is brown, grey or dark yellow with the rest of the body being a neutral color which blends in to their natural environment.

Their tail makes up around half of their length and is wide at the base tapering down to the narrow end at the rounded tip.

Males are typically larger than the females and have a broader head. Females are typically lighter in color than the males.

On each of their limbs they have five toes.

An average common chuckwalla will measure between 28 and 42cm (11-16.5in) long. Typically they weigh around 245g (8.63oz).


Common chuckwallas are herbivores. Their diet consists of bushes, leaves fruits and on a rare occasion insects.

Much of their moisture needs are satisfied by the plants they eat.

common chuckwalla

Scientific Name

Sauromalus ater

Conservation Status

Least Concern


245g (8.63oz)


28-42cm (11-16.5in)


Wild 15 years

Captive 25 years

Record 65 years



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North America is the native home of the common chuckwalla. Here they can be found in Mexico and the United States. This species is found in the west of the United States and in north-western Mexico. They tend to live away from the coastline.

Some occur on islands in the gulf of California.


This species lives in arid areas such as deserts along lava flows, rocky outcrops and hillsides. A small part of their range covers a subtropical thornforest.

common chuckwalla


Mating takes place starting in April. They will only breed in years with ample rainfall and good food availability. Males tend to breed every year with females breeding every second year.

Males compete fiercely during this period for access to females in their territory. These battles involve biting and head knocking.

They lay 5-16 eggs underground and these then incubate for 35 days. During the incubation period the female will guard the eggs and protect them.

Young are independent from birth with no parental care provided.

Sexual maturity is reached at between 2 and 3 years old.


Common chuckwallas are active by day. As a reptile they are reliant on the sun to generate energy and when it is cold they may be inactive for weeks or even months at a time.

To obtain warmth they will bask in the sun. They can increase the surface area available to absorb this heat by folding out their loose skin folds.

Most of the time common chuckwallas are solitary with males aggressively defending their territory during breeding season. Due to the low number of available shelters in the desert they may be found sharing a shelter.

They perform a territorial display during which they push their body up and down. They will also bob their head.

common chuckwalla

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the common chuckwalla include snakes, coyotes and hawks.

When threatened the common chuckwalla will run and hid under a rock or in a crevice. They inflate their lungs and this makes its hard for the predator to remove them from this spot.

They also have the ability to lose their tail to distract the predator.

In some areas habitat destruction is lowering their population. They are also affected through collection for the pet trade. This has a significant effect on populations with attractive patterning. Collectors also tend to cause additional habitat destruction.

Quick facts

Excess salt in their body is excreted through a gland in their nostrils and they may sneeze to help expel the salt.

Their scientific name was previously Sauromalus obesus.

Photo Gallery

common chuckwalla
common chuckwalla
common chuckwalla

Photo Credits

Public Domain. US Government.


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Rosamond Gifford Zoo. 2020. Common Chuckwalla - Rosamond Gifford Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 December 2020].

Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Sauromalus ater. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T64054A12740491. Downloaded on 14 December 2020.

Drayton Manor Theme Park. 2020. Common Chuckwalla. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 December 2020].

Ambassador Animal. 2020. Chuckwalla, Western. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 December 2020]. 2020. Chuckwalla. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 December 2020].

Georgia Aquarium. 2020. Common Chuckwalla - Georgia Aquarium. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 December 2020].

Schultz, T. 2014. "Sauromalus ater" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 13, 2020 at

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