Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Common Chuckwalla

Sauromalus ater

The common chuckwalla is a diurnal lizard that has a reputation for being solitary and shy. When possible, they spend their time basking on elevated surfaces, but when temperatures are extreme and food is scarce they may be inactive for weeks or even months at a time.

Range & Habitat

Common chuckwallas are found across the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Their habitat features rocky desert and lava flows.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

The chuckwalla population is not typically subject to the illicit pet trade. However, the degradation of different areas within its range poses a potential threat to the species.


In the Wild – various plants, leaves, buds, flowers, fruits, occasional insects.

At the Zoo – a variety of greens, vegetables, bean sprouts, fruit, yellow flowers.

Life Span

In the Wild – 15 years; In Human Care – up to 25 years.

Fun Facts about the Common Chuckwalla

  • When threatened, chuckwallas will retreat into a gap or crevice. They then inflate their lungs to wedge themselves in, making it very difficult for a predator to pry them out.
  • Chuckwallas do not typically drink from a direct water source. Most of their hydration comes from the food they eat. However, chuckwallas have been known to drink from puddles after a rainstorm.


Gray, R.L. (2003). Desert lizards: Captive husbandry and propagation. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.

NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version

7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed January 29, 2008).

Rogner, M. (1997). Lizards volume 1: Husbandry and reproduction in the vivarium. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.

Saint Louis Zoo, (2008). Western chuckwalla. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from Saint Louis Zoo Website:

San Diego Natural History Museum, (2007). Sauromalus obesus obesus: Western chuckwalla. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from San Diego Natural History Museum Web site:

Updated June 13, 2023
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