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Photo credit: Erik Enderson

Arizona striped whiptail (Aspidoscelis arizonae) | ESA status: petitioned for listing

Arizona striped whiptail

With its sky-blue head and tail and a body clad in black and white racing stripes, the Arizona striped whiptail stands out against the dun-colored soil of its sandy habitat. These swift little lizards dig around in the loose soil and debris under the bases of bushes, clumps of saltgrass, and alkali sacaton (a hardy desert grass) hunting for insects, spiders, centipedes, and even smaller lizards to eat.

In the spring and summer, Arizona striped whiptails can be found hunting or basking on warm rocks, especially in the early morning. In late spring or early summer, they lay their eggs in one or two clutches of one to three eggs each. Come late fall and winter, they disappear into hibernation in burrows that provide shelter from the elements.

Arizona striped whiptail habitat

Arizona striped whiptails are found only in Graham and Cochise counties in southeastern Arizona, in dry semi-desert grassland areas interspersed with shrubs, prickly-pear cactus, and yucca.

Historically, the lizards have been recorded in three locations: near the cities of Willcox and Fairbank, and in Whitlock Valley. They have apparently been driven from one location outside of Willcox due to the construction of a housing development. The last sighting of an Arizona striped whiptail in Whitlock Valley occurred in 1983, when a single specimen was collected near the Hackberry Ranch. And no lizard has been seen near Fairbank since the 1894 collecting expedition that initially documented the species. Information on the historic range of the Arizona striped whiptail—and on the exact location where the Fairbank specimen was collected—is sadly lacking.

What are the threats to the Arizona striped whiptail?

Urban and agricultural development and overgrazing by livestock threaten the Arizona striped whiptail’s grassland habitat, and the lizards’ population is declining. This decline is likely related to the decline of Chihuahuan desert grasslands, which have been besieged by continuous livestock grazing for more than a century. Formerly widespread areas of grassland in the Chihuahuan Desert region have been converted to shrub-dominated ecosystems, and there are few large patches of intact semi-desert grassland remaining. Shrubs and forbs invade grazed grasslands, pushing out species like the whiptail that depend on grassland habitat for survival.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to preserve the Arizona striped whiptail

In order to counteract these continuing threats to grasslands and their inhabitants, we are pushing for Endangered Species Act safeguards for this rare lizard. We want to preserve these lizards and their grassland home so that visitors to their dry habitat can still observe the unexpected flash of blue as Arizona striped whiptails skitter across the sand.

Video: Watch an Arizona striped whiptail hunting insects. Credit: Gary Nafis, Californiaherps.com
Video: An Arizona striped whiptail traverses Willcox Playa, Ariz. Credit: Gary Nafis, Californiaherps.com

Wildlife Press: Arizona striped whiptail