San Esteban Chuckwalla

San Esteban Chuckwalla Sauromalus varius

Type of Animal:

Deserts, creosote-prickly pear-kittlebush scrub, desert woodland, lava flows, open flats, rocky areas

San Esteban Island & Roca Lobos in Gulf of California

Largest of all chuckwallas, head small compared to rest of body w/ irregular black/gray coloring on snout/above eyes, body splotched mix of black/dark gray/tan/straw, stocky wide-bodied lizard, females duller/less splattered than males, flattened torso, sides roll outwards, hind limb digits larger than front limb digits

Creosote bush, cholla cacti, prickly pear blossoms, shrubs, leaves, flowers, fruit, perennial plants, foliage, weeds, buds, seeds, insects

Status in Wild:

Breeding in zoos, herpetoculture, & breeding centers. Important breeding programs at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson & in NW Mexican town of Punta Chueca, Sonora (1 hr 45 min away from Sonoran capital Hermosillo). Reintroduction of captive-bred animals into native habitat.

Solitary or small harems of male w/ 2-3 females

Additional Info:

Young: Hatchling
Group: Colony
Male: 4 lbs
Female: 3 lbs
3 months

Life Span:
15 years in wild, 25-30 years in captivity

Body Length:
Male: 1.8-2 ft
Female: 1.5 ft
Young: 9 in

Tail Length:
Male: 10.8 in
Female: 9 in

Main predators of adults are dogs, cats, coyotes, predatory birds, snakes, & rats. Mice eat eggs.
Threatened due to hunting by Seri/Comca’ac people for meat, pet trade, invasive predators, habitat loss, habitat degradation (especially caused by livestock/introduced plants), killing due to mistaken identity w/ venomous Gila Monsters, & diseases from introduced species.
Males territorial, especially during breeding season, using different color/physical displays (push-ups/head-bobs/mouth gaping). They’ll also fight.

Fun Fact(s):
Before founding of Americas by Westerners & into recent times, important food source for Seri people-several lizards crossbred w/ Angel Island Chuckwallas (native to Guardian Angel Island & 10 nearby smaller islands), being translocated to 3 islands in Bahia de los Angeles-Isla San Lorenzo Norte/Isla San Lorenzo Sur/Tiburon Island-these populations have since died out. Hybridization process repeated by herpeticulturalists in early 2000s as way of legally producing lizard similar to this species that reptile enthusiasts could keep. Hybrids fertile w/ calm temperament of Angel Island Chuckwallas & coloration of San Esteban Chuckwallas.
When threatened/disturbed, they’ll enter crevices/inflate lungs w/ gular pump, distending body & wedging lizard in place.
Seri who once inhabited San Esteban called themselves Coftecol Comcaac-people of the giant chuckwalla.
Name “chuckwalla” comes from Shoshone word tcaxxwal or Cahuilla word caxwal, which Spanish explorers transcribed as chacahuala.

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