Cochise County Reptiles: The Arizona Striped Whiptail Lizard

The Arizona striped whiptail lizard is apparently a true ecological treasure.  In Cochise County–northern Cochise County–there’s one known population of this species, Aspidosceloscis Arizonae.  Two more populations have been observed in Graham County, and that’s it.

Just three for-sure groups of the little critters in all of Arizona.

Until now.  Pam and I’ve long known we had desert grassland whiptail lizards here, but only this year have we started noticing the little flashes of blue that betray the presence of the Arizona striped whiptail.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t present all along.  It could simply be that my Canon PowerShot camera has made me much more aware of what’s out there around the Border Fort.  (Which it has; studying photos snapped with this camera teaches me a lot about the fauna in the area.)

By midsummer (2012), our fourth summer on this acreage one mile north of the Mexican border and something like 60 miles west of the New Mexico border, we realized we have a lot of little lizard species thriving here.

One day a month or so ago, I managed to get one photo of the fleet-footed little speedster with the blue tail.  They’re so quick I didn’t realize just how blue that tail really was until the photo was blown up on the computer screen.

Oh my.  Gotta get more of those.  Need enough for a page at  Duh.

It took a while.  Finally, though, opportunity struck.  The Arizona striped whiptails seem to really, really like hunting around and through our driveway gravel cover.  I was headed into the house when one of the blue-tails made its appearance…and this time, it didn’t just go hide.

At last! An Arizona striped whiptail lizard actually willing to pose for the camera!

We had no idea of the species at that point.  The photos were needed to slow down an image of the quick-darting lizard enough to figure out what it actually looked like in the first place!  The identification came later, poring through various Internet sites.

Thought it might be a skink at first.  Wife thought I said skunk.

But it matched the previously existing Arizona striped whiptail descriptions and photos perfectly.

Moving flat out…more or less literally.

Pam didn’t seem to much care about the discovery of the species…until I told her they eat (among other things) centipedes.  That got her attention.  A sizeable centipede scared the bejabbers out of her recently when she picked a dishpan out of the sink and the venomous creepy-crawly came squiggling up from under the bottom of the pan to say, “HI!”

Lots of screaming going on there for a while.

Other sites talk about the way these  striped whiptails hunt for edible stuff (bugs & the like) in leaf mold, detritus, etc.  What they don’t mention (as far as I’ve seen so far, anyway) is just how investigative these little hunters are when it comes to holes in the ground.  It doesn’t take them long to investigate a hole, but they do investigate.

Here, we’ll show you.

First, the lizard checks out a hole in the ground.

Checking out a hole.

However, that particular hole apparently didn’t hold much promise.  Gotta go-go-go explore some more.  Note the blurring of the speeding near foreleg especially–at a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second.  These little puppies are quick!

Gotta go! I’m late! For a very important date!

The Arizona striped whiptail lizard sports those 7 yellow racing stripes for a reason.  Even though the 7th stripe on this one is very faint and hard to see, this is one Type A personality reptile–go!  Go!  GO!!

Not surprisingly, when it does find a hole it likes, it’s down the hatch in a hurry, too.

Coming down!

I was more than curious to see if the whiptail intended to “go all the way”.

Turned out it did.  There’s no quit in this quitter–uh, critter.

Lunch ready?

Once this tunnel rat (hey, I’m Vietnam Era; the term means something) gets going, it’s a disappearing act for real.  Nothing left but hole.

Where’d he (or she) go?

It actually occurred to me to wonder if the little lizard would come backing out of the hole.  Should have known better.  As my wife noted, “It probably doesn’t take them a lot of room to turn around.”  Beyond that, I’m not at all sure they possess a true reverse gear.

Can you imagine trying to back up a tail like that?

Pushing a rope!  Pushing a rope!

A “civilian” seeing just this much of an Arizona striped whiptail lizard exiting a hole might think it was a garter snake at first glance.

The thrill of knowing this beastie had been captured on film–okay, in pixels or something–was supercalifragilisticexpialidocius.  And going both into and out of a hole!


“No, Ma, it’s not a snake! It’s got LEGS!”

The fact that very few populations of this beautiful, ultra-charming, and extremely beneficial lizard exist…makes the following worth mentioning:

This population should have a good long run ahead of it.  They reportedly do best where grasslands exist, and a fair amount of our acreage is grass-covered.  Plus, there won’t be any development to disturb the lizards.   We now own what was originally designed to be a 5-home development…and we’re not going anywhere.

It may have helped that we looked to minimize our impact on the desert from the moment of arrival.  We had to displace a few clumps of bunchgrass and one very small mesquite tree–but nothing else.  The homesite was deliberately placed on bare land, and we drove our septic installation contractor nuts, requiring him to work around instead of through several mesquite trees.

We have a contract with this land, and the land  knows it.

A brief pause–VERY brief in the case of this species.

It occurs to me that here, on this place, I am the most fortunate of men.  My wife is ill, true; there is that.  But my day job work years are behind me, and while there is more than enough to do with my hours, I can take time out to watch when there’s something worth watching.

Because of this, I’ve begun learning things about some of our non-human neighbors that few people seem to know.

Few people nowadays, that is.  The old Indians knew, and the mountain men.

Eventually, the whiptail moved into the rocks.  We have two sizes, the inch and a half stuff we first ordered back in the day as well as a pile of unsorted aggregate a careless truck driver delivered one Saturday in 2010.

The blue tailed lizard loves either size.  Big or small, rocks piled together make holes.

Head down among the rocks, the whiptail looks more green than blue in this light, from this angle.

Suddenly, the lizard moved out over the rocks toward my left foot.

“Here I come, Dad!”

The last time I held still so a wild critter could scoot under me, I was on my butt on a concrete driveway in East Wenatchee, Washington, my knees raised so a young snake could escape the unwanted attentions of my then-wife (soon to become ex #6) and her younger son.  They wanted to pick it up, to play with it.  I considered that extremely rude but chose to put myself at risk–we thought it might be a copperhead–rather than tell them to back off and get in one more mouth fight.

This time, with  the tiny Arizona striped whiptail lizard, there was no risk.  Except to the lizard itself, should I shift my weight or something, but that wasn’t going to happen.

No hesitation.  The little predator zipped right in under the sole of my cheap (and extremely dirty, out here on the land) Walmart tennis shoes.

Yeah, I have a clean pair for going to town.

Heading under.

The lizard is slightly out of focus in the above photo due to the AutoFocus on the camera having zeroed in on the denim, not the denizen.  Notice how REALLY green (rather than blue)  that tail looks in this one.

“Hey! Good hunting under here!”

After my hunting buddy had been under my shoe for a while, I got tired of waiting for him/her to come back out–and carefully lifted my foot.  Naturally, the liz zipped the heck away from there when I did that–but not really that far, and not to hide.

In fact, the animal simply moved back to the pile of mixed rocks and turned to look at me as if to say, “We’re cool, right?”

“We’re cool, right?”

As my regular readers know, I believe absolutely in reincarnation.  Which could certainly explain all those kids being drugged in school to combat their so-called ADHD these days.

Hyperactive?  Maybe not.    They may have simply had lives as Arizona striped whiptail lizards.  Readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic my left foot–they just need to be out there hunting centipedes, spiders, insects, and the like.

You know.  Eating anything that doesn’t eat them.

Now, under THIS rock we have….

This page ended up being the longest so far on this fledgling Cochise County wildlife photography site.  Didn’t plan it that way.  There were simply so many good photos screaming for publication.  The text is the mortar between those photo bricks if you will, the combination producing a solid wall of information and hopefully a bit of stimulation as well.

One last pic.  The signature visual for the Arizona striped whiptail lizard is definitely that blue (except when it looks green) whiptail, so…here’s the tail end of the page.

Blue tail, signing off.


5 thoughts on “Cochise County Reptiles: The Arizona Striped Whiptail Lizard

  1. What great information and story. Full of suspense ! 😉 Love these critters. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time.

  2. I tried to catch one of these in my kitchen this morning. I missed, just too fast for me. I guess it came in under a door. I guess the dogs will get to it first, or it will find its way out. They are really pretty, with the stripes. I am not afraid of the lizards, but don’t ask me to mess with a snake or a toad. The ick factor has me on them. I like frogs, but not toads.

  3. Kim: Thanks for commenting. I love them, too, though (since I moved back to my original home state of Montana last year), I’m not likely to be seeing to many of them in the foreseeable future.

    “Taking the time” makes my day on a post like this one. Pure recreation.
    Becky: They’re pretty quick, all right. and very pretty as well. It’s the blue tail that makes their appearance ultra special for me. even more than the stripes.

    Toads don’t bother me much, mostly because I can’t even tell the difference until I look them up. Snakes…I’ve only ever handled one, captured by a friend from the wild when I lived in South Dakota years ago. Had to brace myself to do so. It went off okay, but a few weeks later the friend told me it had turned aggressive (non-venomous, but striking and biting). My buddy was pretty sure some kids they’d been around had teased it–it had never offered to bite before the youngsters had access–so they took it back out to the boonies and released it back to the wild.

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