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WILD ABOUT TEXAS: Texas spotted whiptail is common, but wary

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Posted: Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:00 am

The Texas spotted whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis gularis) is one of 11 species of “racerunners” that live in Texas, and it arguably has the largest area of distribution. It can be observed statewide, save for a small portion of the Texas and Louisiana border, and the northern-most section of the panhandle. It also occurs to the north in the southern one quarter of Oklahoma, west to southeastern New Mexico, as well as southward to the central portions of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

The habitats that this elegant lizard prefers are arid to semi-arid grasslands, rocky arroyos, and rocky hillsides. They are most common on sandy soil where there is a sparse covering of shrubs and trees. They are also commonly observed near residences and in parks where there is ample moisture from irrigation.

The Texas spotted whiptail is an elongated reptile that is covered with small granular scales of equal size along its back and sides. It is one of the larger whiptail species that occur in Texas, with adults reaching a total length of one foot, although the average is between seven and nine inches. The background coloration is tan or brown, and the back is adorned with either seven or eight light stripes that run lengthwise from the neck to the tail. These lines can be white, yellow, or occasionally faint green. There are numerous light spots that appear in random order in between these light stripes, giving this animal the common name. The long tail, which can be up to 65 percent of the animal’s total length, is either brown or orange in coloration. The belly scales are much larger and plate-like in appearance, and in females are light in coloration. Males have dark blue-black mottlings on the belly and orange chins during breeding season.

Texas spotted whiptails, like other lizard species, are “cold-blooded,” or ecto­thermic. This means that they do not generate heat from the inside of their body, as mammals and birds do, but rather are dependent on outside sources for heating and cooling. They are active throughout the day from March to November, and unlike many other reptile species, the high metabolism of this lizard enables it to be observed during the hottest part of the summer afternoons.

This species of lizard is a dietary generalist, feeding on both animal matter as well as plant material. The term for this is omnivorous. It feeds primarily on small beetles, ants, grasshoppers and other arthropods, but it will occasionally feed on certain leaves and flowering blossoms like the dandelion.

The Texas spotted whiptail is oviparous, which is a fancy way of saying that it lays eggs. After emerging from the winter-long brumation period (reptiles do not hibernate in the true sense of the word), males will search out females to mate. After mating, the female will lay a small clutch of eggs (between two and six) in moisture retaining soil. Older, large females can lay two to three clutches of eggs per summer. After approximately two months of incubation, the delicate 4-inch long young emerge prepared to fend for and care for themselves.  

These lizards are nervous and can be quite wary. They are constantly on the move, foraging for food in the ground cover and loose soil. Occasionally they will stop to bask in between meal items, but their metabolism is such that they will begin to forage within minutes of stopping. Their movement is based on short bursts of speed, rarely more than a few feet at a time unless they feel threatened. Look to observe this speedy lizard in and around city parks and nature trails.

Odessa, TX

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