9 Stunning Desert Lizards

Written by Emilio Brown
Updated: April 26, 2023
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It is often thought that a desert’s extreme heat and dry air have made the habitat a barren wasteland, but it is actually quite the opposite. Deserts are one of the Earth’s most diverse habitats, filled with plant and animal life well adapted to survive the extreme weather. Lizards are an animal common in deserts and other areas of the world.

Lizards live in most areas of the world, inhabiting deserts, forests, marshes, and other types of habitats. Desserts lizards have adapted to survive the extreme temperatures found in the desert type of habitat. Here are 9 stunning lizards that dwell in the desert. 

This infographic shows nine stunning desert lizards.
The Gila monster and the Zebra-tailed lizard are two examples of amazing desert lizards.

1. Desert Horned Lizard

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) White Background

The horns of the desert horned lizard defend it from predators.

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©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

The desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) is adapted to live in a desert habitat and is found in North America. Horned lizards are known for the large number of horns that cover their body. This species is beige and covered in dark blotches. These lizards live mainly in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, using their coloring to blend into the environment. 

Invertebrates like ants, beetles, and flies are some of the animals this lizard preys on. They are able to squirt blood from their eyes to ward off predators and will run if they feel threatened. Desert horned lizards are most active in the morning and will avoid the afternoon heat of the desert. 

2. Zebra-tailed Lizard 

The legs of the zebra-tailed lizards are longer than other desert lizards, and allow the lizard to run bipedally

©iStock.com/stevelenzphoto

Capable of running up to 23 feet per second, the Zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) is a fast North American lizard species. Zebra-tailed lizards live in the Great Basin and Mojave deserts.  They are easily identifiable by their tails, which have the pattern of a zebra. Growing to around 2 to 4 inches long, they have tan bodies to match the desert terrain.

Zebra-tailed lizards are active for most of the day but avoid the hottest periods. With their fast speed, zebra-tailed lizards hunt small insects and avoid being eaten by desert predators, like snakes, birds, and other large lizards. At night they will burrow into the desert soil, or hide in vegetation. 

3. Collared Lizard 

Female collard lizards develop red spots when pregnant, which go away when she lays her eggs

©iStock.com/SteveByland

The patterns around the Collared Lizards (Crotaphytus collaris) neck are what makes these lizards easily distinguishable from other desert lizards. Two black collar patterns are located around this lizard’s neck which looks like the collar of a shirt. These lizards are large and are very colorful. Blue bodies, yellow stripes, and orange throats are a common color scheme for this lizard, but females have a duller look.

This species lives in desert grasslands within the Sonoran Desert. To quickly traverse the large desert landscape this lizard uses its back legs to propel itself forward. Crickets, grasshoppers, and other invertebrates are what they feed on. 

4. Common Chuckwalla 

chuckwalla-lizard-lying-on-a-rock

Chuckwallas start off small as babies but become very large as adults!

©Mikhail Blajenov/Shutterstock.com

Common Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) can be found in the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran desert within North America. They hang near rocky areas and open flats.  Chuckwallas are a larger species that grows between 11 to 18 inches. They enjoy basking in the sun on rocks during the day. 

These lizards are herbivores and eat leaves, fruits, and flowers found in the desert. Chuckwallas have wrinkly skin that matches the color of desert rocks. When threatened they will run, and try to hide in crevices of rocks. There are five species of Chuckwalla in the world:

  • Common Chuckwalla
  • Angel Island Chuckwalla
  • Santa Catalina Chuckwalla
  • Montserrat Chuckwalla
  • Piebald Chuckwalla 

5. Western-Banded Gecko 

close up of Western banded gecko

The Western banded gecko is one of the only geckos that have eyelids.

©iStock.com/EdwardSnow

There are over 1,000 species of geckos in the world, and the Western-banded Gecko is a species that has adapted to live in the desert. This gecko species inhabits the northwestern areas of the Baja and Sonoran deserts. Four subspecies of Western-Banded Geckos exist:

  • Desert Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus variegatus)
  • Utah Banded Gecko  (Coleonyx variegatus utahensis)
  • Sonoran Banded Gecko  (Coleonyx variegatus sonoriensis)
  • Tucson Banded Gecko  (Coleonyx variegatus bogerti)
  • San Diego Banded Gecko  (Coleonyx variegatus abbotti)

Western banded geckos are terrestrial and live in various vegetated desert habitats. They are nocturnal and come out to find food. This gecko eats small insects, spiders, and baby scorpions it finds in the desert. 

6. Western Whiptail Lizard 

The whiptails is one of the few lizards that reproduces asexually

©iStock.com/ca2hill

In the United States, the western whiptail lizard inhabits a variety of areas. They live in sagebrush deserts and other hot regions with limited foliage. This species will burrow underground to avoid the heat and will aestivate during the hottest summer months. 

Western whiptails feed on beetles and other insects they find when the desert heat subsides. They are small and slender, reaching to be around 4 inches. Whiptails have tan skin, with dark blotches covering them to help this species blend into the desert habitat. 

7. Desert Iguana 

desert-iguana-on-white-background

Desert iguanas are one of the smaller and less expensive iguana species.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Living in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in North America, the Desert Iguana is just one of the 40+ iguana species inhabiting the globe. Optimized for the desert habitat, desert iguanas live in dry, sandy scrublands. Normally found at elevations below 3,300ft, this species is active most of the day. They are diurnal and are active even in hot periods when other lizards will burrow. 

Desert Iguanas grow up to 2 ft and have a tan pattern to help them blend into the desert. Foxes, snakes, and raptors are some of their predators, and they will hide in vegetation or burrow underground to protect themselves. Like other iguanas, desert iguanas are herbivores but have a mild harmless venom. 

8. Armadillo Girdled Lizard 

By tucking its tails in their mouth, they protect the Armadillo Girdled lizard protects the soft parts of its body

©iStock.com/reptiles4all

The Armadillo Girdled lizard is native to South Africa and inhabits deserts, mountains, shrublands, and chaparral habitats. When frightened they roll into a ball like an armadillo and rely on their hardened scales to defend themselves from predators. They are tan, similar to the color of desert sand. This lizard is active during the day and will hide in the crevices of rocks at night.

Unlike some other lizard species, the Armadillo Girdled lizard is social and lives in groups of around 30 to 60 members. Flicking their tongue out and wagging their tails are some ways they communicate. Their unique look and calm temper make them great pet lizards. They are expensive but hardy lizards to keep, surviving off a diet of insects and small invertebrates. 

9. Gila Monster

Lizard Gila Monster( Heloderma suspectum) on a rock

Gila monsters have a venomous bite that is painful.

©Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock.com

The Gila monster is one of the most feared and stunning desert lizards, admired for its beauty. Gila monsters have bright orange and black coloring and are covered in round scales. This lizard is heavy-bodied and is one of the few venomous species of lizards in North America. Their bite is painful but rarely causes death. In the United States, they inhabit the deserts of Arizona and Mexico.

While it may seem dangerous, Gila Monsters are sometimes kept as pets. In some states this is illegal, but with the right permit, they can make a good pet for an experienced reptile handler. Frogs, lizards, insects, and small mammals are what this lizard eats. They are not dangerous, only will only attack as a last resort when provoked. Gila monsters have forked tongues and use this tongue to smell and track prey. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Daniel Castillo


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About the Author

Spiders, snakes, and lizards are my favorite types of animals, and I enjoy keeping some species as pets. I love learning about the various wonders nature has to offer and have been a writer for 5 years. In my spare time, you can find me getting out into nature.

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