Overview

Brief Summary

Cnemidophorus burti is a large whiptail lizard. It occurs in mesas, canyons, and riparian areas in arid and semi-arid regions of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico (Stebbins 2003).

Juveniles display light longitudinal stripes and spots on a dark background. This pattern becomes less distinct in adults as the light color fades with age (Stebbins 2003, Degenhardt et al. 2005).

Based on the result of a phylogenetic analysis by Reeder et al. (2002), this lizard is now commonly treated under the name Aspidoscelis burti.

  • Degenhardt, W. G., C. W. Painter, and A. H. Price. 2005. Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM.
  • Reeder, T., H. C. Dessauer, and C. J. Cole. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships of whiptail lizards of the genus Cnemidophorus (Squamata, Teiidae) : a test of monophyly, reevaluation of karyotypic evolution, and review of hybrid origins. American Museum novitates 3365:1-61.
  • Stebbins, R.C. 2003. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Taylor, E. H. 1936. Notes on the herpetological fauna of the Mexican state of Sonora. The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 24(19):475-503.
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Distribution

Range Description

This species occurs in northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States. Its patchy distribution extends from southern Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico south through Sonora into northern Sinaloa, Mexico (Stebbins 2003). In New Mexico, the species has been found only in Guadalupe Canyon, Hildago County, at 1,321 to 1,387 m (Degenhardt et al. 1996); an unsubstantiated report exists for the Alamo Hueco Mountains, Hildago County (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 1997). Its Arizona range includes Cochise, Pinal, and Pima counties (Arizona Game and Fish Department 1997). The subspecies Aspidoscelis burti xanthonota in central southern Arizona is probably isolated from other subpopulations of this species.
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endemic to a single state or province

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Range includes south-central Arizona and possibly adjacent Sonora, Mexico (Stebbins 2003, Walker and Cordes 2011).

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Continent: Middle-America North-America
Distribution: USA (S Arizona, New Mexico), Mexico (Sonora)  
Type locality: La Posa, 10 miles northwest of Guayamas, Sonora (fide SMITH & TAYLOR 1950: 185)  xanthonotus: Ajo Mountains, Pima County to the Sierra Estrella near Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona.  stictogrammus: C Arizona and Mexico southward through Sonora and probably N Sinaloa, and the northern parts of Chihuahua and Coahuila.
Type locality: Yank Springs, 6 miles southeast of Ruby, Santa Cruz County, Arizona.
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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Diagnosis. Related to C. perplexus, but with a tendency toward a reversal of the typical color pattern. The young are five-lined; brownish or tan dots on a dark-brown background between much widened, bright, cream-colored, lateral lines, and between the dorso-lateral and the broad, lavender, median lines. Most of the older specimens lose practically all trace of the dots and the pair of lateral lines on each side are strongly intensified, while the median becomes dim lavender to reddish in color. The ground color becomes dark or light reddish-brown.

  • Taylor, E. H. 1936. Notes on the herpetological fauna of the Mexican state of Sonora. The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 24(19):475-503.
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Type Information

Holotype for Aspidoscelis burti stictogramma
Catalog Number: USNM 132456
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Preparation: Ethanol
Year Collected: 1948
Locality: Ruby, 6 mi SE of, Yank Springs, Santa Cruz, Arizona, United States, North America
  • Holotype: Burger, W. L. 1950. Natural History Miscellanea, The Chicago Academy of Sciences. (65): 5.
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Ecology

Habitat

Chihuahuan Desert Habitat

This taxon is found in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth. This ecoregion extends from within the United States south into Mexico. This desert is sheltered from the influence of other arid regions such as the Sonoran Desert by the large mountain ranges of the Sierra Madres. This isolation has allowed the evolution of many endemic species; most notable is the high number of endemic plants; in fact, there are a total of 653 vertebrate taxa recorded in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Moreover, this ecoregion also sustains some of the last extant populations of Mexican Prairie Dog, wild American Bison and Pronghorn Antelope.

The dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert is Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata). Depending on diverse factors such as type of soil, altitude, and degree of slope, L. tridentata can occur in association with other species. More generally, an association between L. tridentata, American Tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa) dominates the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. The meridional portion is abundant in Yucca and Opuntia, and the southernmost portion is inhabited by Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) and Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus). Herbaceous elements such as Gypsum Grama (Chondrosum ramosa), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and Hairy Grama (Chondrosum hirsuta), among others, become dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental. In western Coahuila State, Lecheguilla Agave (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Purple Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra) and Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus) are the dominant vascular plants.

Because of its recent origin, few warm-blooded vertebrates are restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert scrub. However, the Chihuahuan Desert supports a large number of wide-ranging mammals, such as the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), Robust Cottontail (Sylvilagus robustus EN); Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Grey Fox (Unocyon cineroargentinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), Collared Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu), Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys sp.), pocket mice (Perognathus spp.), Woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and Deer Mice (Peromyscus spp). With only 24 individuals recorded in the state of Chihuahua Antilocapra americana is one of the most highly endangered taxa that inhabits this desert. The ecoregion also contains a small wild population of the highly endangered American Bison (Bison bison) and scattered populations of the highly endangered Mexican Prairie Dog (Cynomys mexicanus), as well as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

The Chihuahuan Desert herpetofauna typifies this ecoregion.Several lizard species are centered in the Chihuahuan Desert, and include the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum); Texas Banded Gecko (Coleonyx brevis), often found under rocks in limestone foothills; Reticulate Gecko (C. reticulatus); Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus); several species of spiny lizards (Scelopoprus spp.); and the Western Marbled Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris marmoratus). Two other whiptails, the New Mexico Whiptail (C. neomexicanus) and the Common Checkered Whiptail (C. tesselatus) occur as all-female parthenogenic clone populations in select disturbed habitats.

Representative snakes include the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), Texas Blackhead Snake (Tantilla atriceps), and Sr (Masticophis taeniatus) and Neotropical Whipsnake (M. flagellum lineatus). Endemic turtles include the Bolsón Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), Coahuilan Box Turtle (Terrapene coahuila) and several species of softshell turtles. Some reptiles and amphibians restricted to the Madrean sky island habitats include the Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi), Twin-spotted Rattlesnake (C. pricei), Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), and Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus burti).

There are thirty anuran species occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert: Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chircahuaensis); Red Spotted Toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus); Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans); Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides); Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii); Spotted Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus guttilatus); Tarahumara Barking Frog (Craugastor tarahumaraensis); Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii); Madrean Treefrog (Hyla eximia); Montezuma Leopard Frog (Lithobates montezumae); Brown's Leopard Frog (Lithobates brownorum); Yavapai Leopard Frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis); Western Barking Frog (Craugastor augusti); Mexican Cascade Frog (Lithobates pustulosus); Lowland Burrowing Frog (Smilisca fodiens); New Mexico Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata); Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons); Pine Toad (Incilius occidentalis); Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Plateau Toad (Anaxyrus compactilis); Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus); Dwarf Toad (Incilius canaliferus); Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea); Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus); Eastern Green Toad (Anaxyrus debilis); Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps); and Longfoot Chirping Toad (Eleutherodactylus longipes VU). The sole salamander occurring in the Chihuahuan Desert is the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum).

Common bird species include the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and the rare Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus). Geococcyx californianus), Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostra), Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni), and Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus). In addition, numerous raptors inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert and include the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This whiptail inhabits mountain canyons, arroyos (dry creeks), and mesas in arid and semi-arid regions, entering lowland dry thorn scrub along stream courses; often it occurs in rocky areas or among dense shrubs near streams (Stebbins 2003). In New Mexico, it occupies riparian zones, either wooded with sycamore, cottonwood, and ash, or with bunch grasses (Degenhardt et al. 1996). Eggs are laid probably in nests dug in soil/underground.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2007

Assessor/s
Hammerson, G.A., Frost, D.R. & Gadsden, H.

Reviewer/s
Cox, N., Chanson, J.S. & Stuart, S.N. (Global Reptile Assessment Coordinating Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled

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Population

Population
At least several occurrences are extant in Arizona. In New Mexico, this species has been documented in one canyon and unsubstantiated reports exist for a couple additional locations (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 1985; Degenhardt et al. 1996). More than 100 occupied sites probably exist in Sonora, Mexico, with 85% of the occurrences in good condition; extensively surveyed in 1995 (A. Villareal Lazarraga pers. comm. 1998). The total adult population size is unknown but is certainly many thousands. The species can be common even at the periphery of the range. For example, 159 individuals were collected during 1992-1994 surveys in Guadalupe Canyon, New Mexico (Degenhardt et al. 1996). Specific population trend information is not available, but populations appear to be stable. According to J. Rorabaugh (pers. comm. 1998), the United States populations show no evidence of decline. The Guadalupe Canyon population, New Mexico is considered healthy and stable. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (1997) indicates that Arizona populations are apparently stable. The species is regarded as stable in Sonora, Mexico (A. Villareal Lazarraga pers. comm. 1998), where it is not usually abundant but is consistently present.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Overall, this species is currently not threatened. Locally, potential threats include habitat alteration and overcollecting. Due to limited habitat, the population in New Mexico could be impacted by uncontrolled wildfire or overgrazing of riparian vegetation.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It presumably occurs in some protected areas. Other than general research, no direct conservation measures are currently needed for this species.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Reeder et al. (2002) examined phylogenetic relationships of the whiptail lizards of the genus Cnemidophorus based on a combined analysis of mitochondrial DNA, morphology, and allozymes. They determined that Cnemidophorus in the traditional sense is paraphyletic and thus in need of nomenclatural revision. Rather than subsume all cnemidophorine species (including Kentropyx) in a single large genus (Ameiva), they proposed a split that placed the North American "Cnemidophorus" clade in the monophyletic genus Aspidoscelis; under this arrangement, South American taxa remain in the genus Cnemidophorus.

Under the genus Cnemidophorus, Stebbins (2003) retained xanthonota as a subspecies of A. burti. de Queiroz and Reeder (in Crother 2008, 2012) accepted A. xanthonota as a species, based on Collins (1991).

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