Monday, March 16, 2009
Common Chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater. The scientific name derives as follows: Sauros means lizard and omalus means flat, so flat lizard. The common name comes from a Spanish version (Chacahuala) of the local Indian names: Shoshone "tcaxxwal" and Cahuilla "caxwal".
Common Chuckwallas occur in the American Southwest from Baja California up through Arizona, Southern Nevada and Southern Utah. They are primarily herbivorous (vegetarians) but snack opportunistically on insects. They are the American representative of the iguana family, Iguanidae, of which there are also a few more species that occupy islands off the coast of Baja California. So, if you thought that it looked like an iguana, it was no accident.
This Chuckwalla was in a small finger canyon just off the road on the way out of Borrego Springs. I hiked up to snap his picture, having left my trusty 500mm lens at home. He promptly (yes, this is a male as per his coloration) hurried off to a rock crevice where he popped out his head and looked at me from a distance. Supposedly, if they feel threatened, they can puff up their bodies with air and lodge themselves into a crevice, making it difficult for predators to pull them out (imagine a coyote tugging at a tail). He moved pretty fast, much faster than you would expect a big lizard on little legs to move and was a bit of a surprise as I was snapping pictures of wildflowers.