Whiptail Lizards (Family Teiidae, Genus Cnemidophorus)
Main sources: Stebbins, Robert, 1985, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Houghton Mifflin; Behler, John & Wayne King, 1979, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians, NY: Alfred Knopf.
Whiptails are New World lizards, with about 225 species extant, but only the Genus Cnemidophorus, with fourteen species, reaches the U.S. West. They are "slim-bodied, long-tailed, alert, and active [and] move with a jerky gait." (Stebbins p. 151) We see many of them on our lands, but most are small, and even the larger ones move quite rapidly. As Stebbins says, they "are among the most difficult lizards to capture" (Ibid.). We could add to that "even with a camera". We were finally lucky with the unusualy large one shown above, which hesitated in its restless searching for "insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and other small animals, including other lizards" (Ibid., p. 152), stopping for a moment beside an old extruded snake skin in lower Hot Springs Canyon in May 2005.
Whiptails are also rather difficult to identify, and we will not try more than guesses informed by information from our sources cited above. This one is more colorful than most we have seen, and we would suggest it may be a subspecies of the Western Whiptails (Cnemidophorus tigris), probably the Arizona Desert Whiptail. Click on the banner photo above for a contrast-enhanced close-up which intensifies the sharp color difference between brownish back coloration that starts behind the head, and the distinctively black-spotted head, sides, and legs.
Below, a somewhat closer image of a smaller individual, also photographed in lower Hot Springs Canyon, in August 2006. This looks like the same species as the one at the top of the page.