San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Male Gambelia wislizenii. Photo by Kammy Fallahpour
Male Gambelia wislizenii.

Gambelia wislizenii
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard


Gambelia, to honor William Gambel, a naturalist of western North America, and wislizenii, to honor Dr. Frederick Wislizenus, an army surgeon who collected the first specimen (the holotype). In Spanish, the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard is called cachorón, a general name for most lizards.


Size: The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard is a relatively large lizard with a large head, long snout, and long, round tail. This species is sexually dimorphic, with large females measuring about 5.8 inches (144 mm) snout-vent length, and small males, about 4.8 inches (119 mm) snout-vent length.

Coloration: This species has a white, cream, or gray ground color with irregular brown or dark gray spots covering the head and body. Occasionally, dark dorsal bars cross the back. The tail also has dark transverse bars giving the appearance of banding.

Range and Habitat

The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard ranges across the western United States from Oregon and Idaho in the north, south to northern Méexico in Baja California, Sonora, Coahuila, and Zacatecas. In San Diego County, it occurs east of the Peninsular Ranges within the Lower Colorado Desert.

This species is found in desert flats and lower foothills with sparse vegetation.

Natural History

Behavior: The Long-nosed Leopard Lizard is often seen basking on small rocks along the roadside.  When threatened, it exhibits "freeze" behavior: it runs underneath a bush, flattens its body against the ground, and remains motionless. In extreme cases, such as capture, it is capable of caudal autonomy (tail separation).

Prey and Predators: Like all members of the family, the Long-nosed Leopard Lizard preys on small lizards (termed saurophagus), in addition to insects and sometimes rodents. This species is also cannibalistic, eating smaller Leopard Lizards when the opportunity arises. Its long snout presumably makes the jaw action quicker and better for catching vertebrate prey. This species is an ambush predator. It hides in the shadows underneath a bush waiting for its prey to come within range. It then pounces, attacking the unsuspecting animal.

Predators of Long-nosed Leopard Lizards include a number of predatory birds, snakes, coyotes, badgers, and kit fox.

Female G. wislizenii exhibiting breeding coloration. Photo by Kammy Fallahpour
Female G. wislizenii
exhibiting breeding coloration.

Breeding: The female Long-nosed Leopard Lizard is larger than the male, and no coloration differences exist between the sexes except for the bright red or orange breeding coloration exhibited by females during the breeding season. This species lacks territoriality, and both sexes have widely overlapping home ranges. The lack of territorial defense in this species is attributed to their diet and mode of foraging (Tollestrup, 1983).

Because of their diet, leopard lizards travel long distances to find vertebrate prey. They also rely on camouflage to capture their prey. These lizards live in regions with low visibility, with many rocks and bushes, which would make monitoring a territory difficult. These are some factors that likely influenced the loss of territoriality in this species. The lack of territorial aggression presumably contributes also to large-sized females, which is associated with greater reproductive output. However, similar selective pressures are not imposed on males (Lappin and Swinney, 1999).

Conservation Status

There has been no proposed conservation plans.

Suggested Reading

McGuire, J. A.  1996.  Phylogenetic systematics of Crotaphytid Lizards (Reptilia: Iguania: Crotaphytidae). Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History 32:1-142.

Medica, P. A., F. B. Turner, and D. D. Smith.  1973.  Hormonal induction of color change in female leopard lizards, Crotaphytus wislizenii. Copeia 1973:658-661.

Montanucci, R. R.  1967.  Further studies on leopard lizards, Crotaphytus wislizenii. Herpetologica 23:119-126.

Tollestrup, K.  1983.  The social behavior of two species of closely related leopard lizards, Gambelia silus and Gambelia wislizenii. Z. Tierpsychol. 62:307-320.

Text by Kammy Fallahpour and Bradford Hollingsworth
Photos by Kammy Fallahpour

Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians | Field Guide Feedback Form