Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chuckwalla II

I found and caught a chuckwalla recently out in the Hayfield Road area off the I-10. I was looking for reptiles in anticipation of teaching a reptile and amphibian class for the Boy Scouts. It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid-80s. I was scanning the rocks as I hiked, looking for these wide-bodied reptiles that really stand-out, if you know what you are looking for. 
I've found that chuckwallas are quite curious. If you walk a few steps and wait, 
then walk a few more steps and wait, 
the chuckwalla will allow you to slowly get close to it. 
Even if they scramble out of sight for a moment, if you bide your time, they will eventually came back out to look you over. 
I took pictures as I moved closer. I ultimately was able to grab his tail while he tried to wedge himself in the rock and got a good enough hold that I was able to pull him out. 
The Sonoran Desert chuckwalla males, which have orangish to pinkish torsos, are prettier than the Mojave Desert chuckwalla males which are mostly black and gray. 
The female and immature chuckwallas are smaller and have scattered spots or bands of gray and yellow. I love their thick, sandpapery skin, with loose folds on the side, which allow them to greatly expand their bellies and wedge themselves in the cracks of rocks. Their tails are big and thick near the base, then taper to a blunt tip. They almost look like geoduck. The tails are thick and strong enough, that if you catch them near the base of the tail, the tail will not come off if you use it to pull them from rock crevices. Judy named the chuckwalla "Chuckie" and we had it for about three weeks. I set up a large aquarium with a large heatrock and a heatlamp and found that Chuckie loved the heat. 
Chuckwallas are primarily vegetarian, so I fed Chuckie spinach, some flowers, such as rose petals, and pieces of cut-up fruit and vegetables such as apples, banana, zucchini, and yellow squash. Chucky was not happy in captivity: he constantly scratched at the side of the aquarium and hung from the top of the wire mesh using his claws. While holding him, he would often flail away with his long sharp claws. I was happy to be able to take him back out to Hayfield Road and release him. 
As I reached into the bag to grab him, he bit me, the first time I've been bitten by a chuckwalla. 
What a magnificent lizard. 
I have posted previously on chuckwallas, but thought that this experience merited a separate post, rather than just an update of the old one. 
It was very fun to have a chuckwalla for a few weeks and get to know more about them.


  1. Even I enjoyed Chuckie and would love to have kept him around a bit longer. However, I was content to let him sun himself on his rock in the cage. I don't like the idea of getting bit.

  2. I remember when you caught one (or two) at Lake Powell and brought (them) home in a large paper lawn bag when we lived on Northmont Way.

  3. Chuckie looks great. I'm happy that you released him back to his habitat.

  4. I really enjoyed your post about this chuckwalla. I have pictures of numerous critters that I have seen out wandering, but have never been able to find one of these yet. Thanks for sharing your experience

  5. I really enjoyed your post as well... Chuckwalla lizards are amazing and believe me I love them like your own children.. My fiancé and myself have nine chuckwalla's ;-) One I caught in Phoenix almost three years ago the others caught at Lake Powell... We found out that keeping them in an aquarium is not something they like no matter the size... we have let them have their own room with a platform they can crawl up next to the window for sun and I have rocks laid out to crawl on and sleep in-between. They never try to scratch at the window to get out as they don't feel confined and just sit and look out the window and run around the room... they are so loving too... just like big teddy bears, they love to be kissed on the side of their cheeks and love to be petted... its amazing what a little love does to these precious lizards... Thanks again for your chuckwalla story...