San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Desert Iguana, photographed by Mark Dodero

Dipsosaurus dorsalis
Desert Iguana


Dipsa from the Greek meaning thirst(y) and sauros meaning lizard. The name dorsalis is presumably in reference to the its well-defined dorsal crest.


The Desert Iguana is a large, light colored lizard with a long tail. Its snout-vent length can measure almost six inches, and its tail nearly 1 1/2 times longer. It has a small, rounded head with large ear openings, and sturdy legs.

Broad dorsal bands span its light cream colored body, and eventually become rings around its tail. Narrow, longitudinal stripes overlay the dark bands, especially in the central and posterior dorsal areas. The bands and stripes occur in various shades of brown and gray. The dorsal scales are keeled, and become slightly larger down the center of the back. This forms a well-defined crest that extends along the back and diminishes down the length of the tail.

Range and Habitat

The Desert Iguana ranges from the Mojave Desert regions of east-central California and southern Nevada to western Arizona and through the desert regions of the Baja California peninsula, Sonora, and Sinaloa in Mexico.

This lizard lives in the expansive sandy flats and hummocks characteristic of the creosote woodlands of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The creosote bush provides food, shelter, and kangaroo rat burrowing sites that are readily used by Desert Iguanas to escape predation and extreme heat.

Natural History

Behavior: The Desert Iguana tolerates extreme heat better than other desert lizards, and is often seen perching on prominent spots such as large rocks or sand mounds.

Diet: Desert Iguanas are considered vegetarians, but have been observed eating insects and, in captivity, will eat mealworms when offered. They're particularly attracted to yellow flowers such as those found on creosote bushes where they climb among the branches in their quest for food.

Breeding: Little is known about their reproductive cycle, though it's believed that mating occurs during April and May. Three to eight eggs are laid midsummer, and hatchlings begin to appear in September.


There have been no proposed conservation plans. Problems may exist only where their habitats have been damaged or destroyed.

Text by Dick Schwenkmeyer.
Photo by Mark Dodero

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