Monday, July 6, 2015

Sonoran Spotted Whiptails

I took some really nice pictures of lizards in a suburban backyard the other day:

The first is a Western Fence Lizard, quite common in Southern California. The second is something more interesting.

The first ID I made for the iNaturalist submission was an Orange-throated Whiptail which is the only similar looking lizard known to live in Orange County. This still looked a bit odd to me, but it isn't unheard of for females to lack the orange under the neck so it still made sense.

Then I got an email:
I'm the Curator of the _____ project here on iNaturalist. I saw your recent post of a Belding's Whiptail Lizard from Lake Forest. I was really surprised to see that your locality is at a very urbanized part of Lake Forest. Is that actually the correct locality?
I responded that the location was correct, but I wasn't all that sure of the species. Then the next day I got the following email:
Hi Jesse,
This is really interesting. I have been in communication with a colleague at the USGS who just found whiptail lizards about 2km NW of your location, but also near Jeronimo Lane. We also were unsure of the ID of his lizards, but the current hypothesis is that they are released Sonoran Spotted Whiptails, Aspidoscelis sonorae. My colleague is running some DNA sequencing to determine the ID. We had assumed that this was a very localized population, but your photos suggest that this is a much more widespread population.
Here are the other records:
As with your find, the initial assumption was Orange-throated Whiptails, but we later realized that was incorrect. For your whiptails, I am convinced they are not Orange-throats, but I am not sure of the correct ID. I have changed my ID of your lizards on the iNat record to only name the genus.
This is a very interesting, but also troubling, development. If this is an introduced species, it appears to already have a pretty good sized distribution.
In any case, your observations are especially interesting. I will keep you informed as this develops on our end.
If you see any more of these lizards in that area, please post them, but also please change the geoprivacy settings to "obscured" or "private." Part of my concern here is that if these are an introduced species, we don't want others to find them and move them around.
Thanks again for posting to RASCals. It is observations like this one that demonstrate the success of citizen science in urban areas.
 So it is fairly likely that I am only the second person to ever find this lizard in California!

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