Cochise County, Arizona: The Ant-Eating Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard

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The desert grassland whiptail lizard was one of the first animals my wife and I discovered on our southern Cochise County, Arizona, desert acreage. They’re fascinating little critters. It turns out they eat ants and only ants and they’re all female, no guys allowed in the entire species.

How cool is that?

We also discovered they love keeping cool when the means is available. When I had a tiny “pond” out back of the camp trailer for a few months, one Missy Whiptail (as I’ve come to call each and every one of them) showed off her prowess as a diving lizard, posing for some great photos in the process. Uh-huh, a desert lizard who dives like a competitor in the Olympics. Really.

How cool is that?

Bottom line, we really enjoy these little guys–uh, gals.

This year, though (2011), I’d not snapped any fresh photos of them. We have more Missy Whiptails running around eating their ants (no, no, not eating their aunts!) now than ever before, but with the good Samsung cameras breaking down and only the Vivitar with the worthless zoom on hand, why bother?

Until today. I’d been out wandering, noticing a white flower I’d not seen before, but back in what we think of as the “front yard”, there was desert grassland whiptail lizard action going on.

Beats lounge lizard action, right?

In the open, bare-earth area between the burn barrel and my favorite mesquite tree, an energetic little Missy Whiptail came to see me. Running in short scoot-stop-scoot bursts the way they do, she ended up between my shoes, actually brushing the right foot, and there she stopped to enjoy the shade for a moment or two.

I’d seen her coming, known she was coming to see me, and song-talked her in the rest of the way.

But the camera, though in the case clipped to a belt loop, was not ready. Besides, I had my hands full at the moment.

By the time the necessary adjustments could be made, little Missy had headed back under the outer branches of the mesquite tree. Knowing it to be a fruitless effort, I nonetheless snapped a few shots of her in that environment.

Even knowing exactly what I was looking for, I couldn’t locate her in the finished photo. Impressive camouflage!

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Fortunately, when these little guys–uh, gals–are foraging, they don’t hang around in one spot for long. Pretty soon she was back out from under the mesquite tree…and posing for the camera.

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Watching as she went about her routine a few feet from my feet, I learned something I’d not known before.

No, not about how they reproduce. That I knew from previous online research. These amazing little critters don’t need any boy lizards to get the job done. Which is a good thing, since there aren’t any boys in the bunch. Each whiptail has all the necessary parts within her own body–though when the time is right, she will stir up her hormones a bit by having fake sex with another of her species.

Lesbian lizards.

No, this new discovery involved her hunting/eating patterns. Ignoring the gazillion ants running around on the surface, she found a hole to an underground ant kingdom and…dumpster dived.

Who knew?

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To ant hole after ant hole after ant hole she went, diving into each one nose first, wedging herself a bit deeper, sometimes deeper yet, but never hanging with her eyes underground and her tail in the air to tempt lizard-eating predators for more than fifteen to twenty seconds at any one time.

Another intriguing detail: She never went near the holes where surface ant activity was running rampant. Always, she nosedived down holes that–to the uneducated human eye–looked deserted.

Was she finding ants to eat below this unpromising surface? Must have been; she certainly looked healthy and well fed.

How big are these little desert grassland whiptail lizards with the name longer than their bodies? The adults run in the neighborhood of three inches or so, not counting the tail.

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You’re still with us? Despite those third rate Vivitar photos? Awesome! Now, here’s a pic of the same species, the desert grassland whiptail lizard…taken with the newer camera, the Canon PowerShot.

Nothing like having the right tool for the task, eh?

Desert grassland whiptail lizard photographed in southern Cochise County, Arizona, on July 4, 2012, with Canon PowerShot SX230HS.

Desert grassland whiptail lizard photographed in southern Cochise County, Arizona, on July 4, 2012, with Canon PowerShot SX230HS.

4 thoughts on “Cochise County, Arizona: The Ant-Eating Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard

  1. That’s good to hear, Sha. Pam recently told me that her son–who has lived in this county his entire life–does NOT understand how we can possibly LIKE “living this way”, as he put it. “Having to go outside to turn on the electricity…” (for instance). (Although this past week, the solar has suddenly been handling everything 24/7 just fine; haven’t even had to fire up the Yamaha genie at all.)

    On the flip side, Pam & I would like to be FARTHER off the grid! LOL! Not that we’re planning on moving; we’re settled in here really well. This is already the longest (4 years, 6 months) I’ve lived in any one place since high school graduation in 1961.

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