Whiptail Lizard
Cnemidophorus burti

 Red-backed Whiptail - Illustration by Bill Singleton

 Red-backed Whiptail
Cnemidophorus burti xanthonotus
 Giant Spotted Whiptail - Illustration by George Maleski

Giant Spotted Whiptail
Cnemidophorus burti stictogrammus


The spotted whiptail (C. burti) is has a long body and tail, and rapid movements. C. burti has two recognized subspecies in Arizona: the red-backed whiptail (C. burti xanthonotus) and the giant spotted whiptail (C. burti stictogrammus). C.b. stictogrammus grows to 3.5 to 5.5 inches. The upperpart of the lizard is usually medium to grayish brown and may have a reddish tint on the head and neck Adults have large spots with little to no side striping. C.b. xanthonotus does not grow as large as C.b. stictogrammus. The upperpart is reddish with the coloring abruptly stopping at the sides. The sides and upperparts of the neck, legs, and feet are grayish-green or bluish.

Habitat: C.b. stictogrammus and C.b. xanthonotus occur among dense, shrubby vegetation near the banks of semi-arid permanent streams and intermittent streams.

Range: C.b. stictogrammus ranges from southern and southeastern Arizona, extreme southwestern New Mexico, and Sonora, Mexico. C.b. xanthonotus ranges from the Ajo Mountain area in Pima County, to the Sierra Estrella in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Diet: Both subspecies of lizards feed on beetles, scorpions, spiders, and other small arthropods.

Life History: Both subspecies are active during the day, foraging in litter and dense vegetation to find insects. The lizards are active spring through autumn and hibernate during the winter. During the summer, the female lays a clutch of one to four eggs.

Status: C.b. stictogrammus and C.b. xanthonotus are listed as a "Species of Concern" by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Both subspecies are being tracked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Heritage Data Management System (HDMS). Under the HDMS, C.b. stictogrammus is ranked "S3=Uncommon or Restricted," while C.b. xanthonotus was ranked "S2=Rare." Both subspecies may be threatened with habitat degradation.

Whiptail Lizard In Pima County: The giant spotted whiptail is found in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tanque Verde Canyon, Agua Caliente Wash, and the Santa Cruz River floodplain. In 2001, a population of giant spotted whiptails was found near the west branch of the Santa Cruz River. The red-backed whiptail occurs in western Pima County, in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and in the Tohono O'odham Nation. Because the known distribution of this species is so limited, all Pima County populations should be considered significant.



1. Stebbins, Robert C. 1985. Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston. Pp. 153.

2. Arizona Game and Fish Department. 1997. Cnemidophorus burti xanthonitus. Heritage Data Management System.

3. RECON. 2001. Priority Vulnerable Species. Pima County Administration

back to Priority Vulnerable Species Fact Sheets