Common Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater)

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Common Chuckwalla
Sauromalus ater
Common Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater)
Name Common Chuckwalla
Name Lat. Sauromalus ater
Family Iguanas
Family lat. Iguanidae
Order Scaled Reptiles
Order lat. Squamata
Origin North America
Habitat Semi-desert
Diet Veggies, insects
Humidity 30-50 %
Behavior ♂ territorial
Keeping Pair, harem
Care Level Moderate
Reproduction Oviparous
Housing Desert terrarium
Life Span 20 years
Protection No
Metric Units
Size 40 cm
Temperature 25-30 °C
Temperature Local 45-50 °C
Housing Size 120 x 90 x 80 cm
US Units
Size 16"
Temperature 77-86 °F
Temperature Local 113-122 °F
Housing Size 45" x 35" x 30"

Distribution and habitat

Diurnal chuckwallas are widespread in the southwestern United States from Nevada to California and in Mexico on Baja California and in the Sonoran Desert. They live in the rocky semi-deserts and retreat into rock crevices and caves at night, but also during the day for thermoregulation.


Minimum dimensions for the terrarium, according to the size and number of animals

1-2 animals 5KRL x 4KRL x 3KRL or 5KRL x 3KRL x 4KRL (L x W x H)

Head-torso length (KRL) is measured on the largest animal. For each additional animal, increase the footprint by 15%. A terrarium of e.g. L 120 x W 90 x H 80 cm is recommended, which should be placed in a quiet and vibration-free place

They need a well structured terrarium with stones and cemented rock structures with horizontal crevices (hiding places) at the back and side walls as well as an approx. 30 cm deep, diggable substrate of sand-clay mixture to be able to build burrows. A small part of the substrate should always be kept moist. A small water container and an easy-to-clean feeding station complete the setup. Once or twice a week, preferably in the evening, the inside of the terrarium should be finely sprayed with water

Temp. day: 25-30 °C Temp. night: 20-25 °C Temp. local: up to 50 °C Humidity: 30-50

Thermostatically controlled floor heating is recommended. Lighting duration must be 12-14 hrs depending on the season. They need a high light intensity. Special lamps that produce the necessary heat and UV light are ideal. Daily UV irradiation is essential.


They require mainly plant food. The food supply consists of wild herbs (alfalfa, dandelion, ribwort, clover, cress, parsley, etc.), vegetables (lettuce, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, etc.), sprouts and germs of e.g. corn, lentils, mung beans and alfalfa, various flowers (dandelion, evening primrose, clover, daisies) and fruits. Occasionally, live insects such as crickets and grasshoppers may be offered. Young animals feed exclusively on a vegetarian diet. It is important to add minerals and vitamins (dusting the food). Young animals should be offered food daily, adults 3-4 times a week. Drinking water must always be available. A varied diet promotes health and prevents deficiency symptoms.

Reproduction and breeding

Only males have femoral pores on the inner thigh of their hind legs. The female lays about 6 hard-shelled eggs in the substrate several times a year. At a temperature of 30 °C the incubation period is about 90 days. A brood care is not practiced. As first food for the young animals finely cut fruit and meadow flowers are suitable. The life expectancy can be up to 20 years.


They are hardly shy or aggressive towards humans, yet caution is advised when dealing directly with tail swipes. Adult males behave territorially and are incompatible with each other

They require 45-50 °C warm basking areas. For hibernation, shorten the lighting duration by 2-3 hours and lower the temperature by 3-4 °C for about two months.

The quality of the feed can be upgraded by giving fruit and honey water.

The terrarium must have good ventilation without drafts and meet the species specific needs. Measuring devices such as thermometers, hygrometers, etc. are necessary. The lighting has to correspond to the species-specific day-night rhythm and has to be placed in such a way that the animals cannot injure themselves. The terrarium should be locked in such a way that neither unauthorized persons can open it nor the animals can escape. Contamination must be removed regularly.

Further literature can be found in your pet store.


Text: Werner Winter; Image: Franz Lowak

Source: BMELV (1997): Tierschutzgutachten - Mindestanforderungen an die Haltung von Reptilien; ENGELMANN (2006): Zootierhaltung - Tiere in menschlicher Obhut: Reptilien und Amphibien, Harri Deutsch Verlag

  • Gemäß § 21 Abs. 5 Tierschutzgesetz idgF