Chuckwallas  (S. ater / hispidus / varius)

South Mountain Carrot-tail male ("Alpha") Red-back  male (John Castellano's male)
 

 

 Carrot-tail hatchlings Crater Mountain Red-back hatchling

 

 

Calico male ("Crown") San Esteban yearling juvenile

We've worked with various species and races of chuckwalla off and on for many years.  We've always considered them secondary to our Uromastyx breeding efforts but their care is so close to Uromastyx that we seem to keep getting back into them.  The genus is represented in  U.S. herpetoculture by  three main species; Sauromalus ater [obesus], which is the mainland species found throughout Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California;  S. hispidus, the Angel Island chuck, and S. various, the San Esteban Island chuck, both of which are found on their namesake islands off the Baja California coast.  I wrote a brief article concerning breeding one of our favorite races of  S. ater, the South Mt. Carrot-tailed Chuckwalla for Reptiles Magazine in the March 2008  "Ask the Breeder"  section.  I'll eventually repost it here, but for now I need to restrict this page to a summary of that information following a brief discussion of what  species we're currently working with and why.

First, the main reason I keep talking myself into breeding chucks is that so few seem to be setup in breeding programs.  I can count on one hand the number of serious breeders currently working with  the mainland species and fewer yet who work with the island species. These are one of Americas great reptiles and most their ranges are now either closed to collecting or have been turned into parking lots and subdivisions.  This  makes the majority of them no longer available to the herpetoculturalist or pet keeper. If we don't get  these races established in sustainable domestic populations, we may never see any of them outside of a Zoo, and for many, not even there.  While many chucks tend to be somewhat skittish, most tame reasonably well, are easy to keep, and make excellent companion or teaching / display animals.

Chuckwalla Habitat- South Mountain, Arizona

Of the mainland  groups, we primarily work with the Carrot-tailed and Red-back races. These two, in my opinion, have arguably the best color contrasts of any of the mainland chucks, are non-aggressive and are just overall nice lizards. Both have proven reasonably well suited to captive breeding and have been in herpetoculture, albeit in very small numbers,  for many years. The hatchlings can be somewhat delicate but the adolescents and adults are very hardy reptiles.  Most individuals are not quite as personable as the average Uromastyx but many become reasonably tame and make very nice pets. 

We have also kept two species of larger Island chuckwallas over the years but prior to 2005 had never tried to bred them. This was due to the prevalent belief held in the chuckwalla breeding community that none of the Island chuckwallas would successfully breed when housed exclusively indoors year round.  We are in too cool of an area of North America (extreme northwestern Washington state) to house them outdoors even in the summer.  So outdoor housing is not a reasonable option for us. Luckily we have since found that we can indeed entice them to breed indoors for us - even if somewhat inconsistently, so have small colonies of them setup  now as well.

Of the two species, the Angel island is the tamest. They literally get dog tame and ours routinely climb into our hands at feeding time. They are a very large (18" + total length),  near solid charcoal black chuckwalla that sports mildly prickly skin - especially surrounding the neck (it almost looks like a like a miniature spiked collar on males). They are very impressive yet are rarely bred in captivity. We also have a small group of another island species - the San Esteban Island chuckwalla.  San Estebans are one of the most beautiful chucks, sporting a sunset hue of pinks and blacks over the entire body. They are also the largest chucks, occasionally reaching  over 21" as adults.  Unfortunately they are considered a threatened species - not from rarity but because they have such a restricted home range.  Thus the federal government normally requires that both the seller and buyer have a special Endangered Captive Wildlife permit before they can be sold across state lines.  As very few individuals have these permits, few people bother to breed San Estebans.  It's a shame as we could turn a very rare species into a reasonable common one, drastically reducing the odds of it becoming extinct.

 

Calico hatchlings -2009 Newly hatched Calico chuck -August 2009

 

A few crosses were produced between the San Esteban and Angel Islands chucks in the early 2000's as a way of legally producing a San Esteban-like chuck that the average reptile enthusiast could own. These are referred to in  herpetoculture as the Calico chuck.  Luckily the crosses are fertile and seem to have  the best traits of both chucks - the good looks of the San Esteban with the calmer temperament of the Angel Islands.  We decided to get a small group of hatchlings of these in 2005 to see if we could work out a means of getting an Island chuck to successfully breed in an indoor-only situation.  Our Calicos reached maturity in 2008 and we did get 3 clutches of eggs. Unfortunately all proved infertile but we persisted.  In 2009 we produced 2 clutches  - both of which proved fertile and yielded nice healthy, huge chuck hatchlings in June. The clutches for 2010 proven infertile again but one of our 2011 clutches again proved fertile and hatched nice healthy offspring.  We have since restarted  our efforts with Angel Island and San Estabans and a few of our breeders should be large enough to potentially breed during  the 2012 season.     

 

 

Basic Care Sheet

 for the

 Carrot-tailed and Island Chuckwallas

 

As I indicated before, the Carrot-tails are my favorite of the mainland chucks.  It is one of the smaller chuckwallas with adults of both sexes averaging around 250-300 grams and 6-8 inches (15-18cm) snout to vent, 13-16 inches (33-41cm) in total length. Hatchlings and juveniles are boldly banded in black and dull cream the entire length of their bodies. Initially the cream bands contain a pink tint with brighter red flecks. This high contrast pattern steadily fades during their first year of life, leaving them with more earth-tone colored bands. As they approach maturity, Carrot-tails become sexually dimorphic. Males loose all traces of banding, exchanging it for a rich solid black body and an orange tail. Occasionally minute scattered red flecks remain present across their backs, but these generally disappear with time. Adult females retain the earth tone bands but many slowly darken as they age, eventually resembling a dull male in overall coloration. Initially they can be reared communally in 30 to 40 gallon, bare-bottomed “Critter Keeper” format tanks (approx. 3’ long, 18” wide, 16” deep) until the hatchlings surpass  5” in total length. After that, you can either add washed small, smooth gravel or grass pellets (timothy) as a substrate. Adults will need  at least a 4’ long by 2’ wide tank for each pair. You can house multiple females in the same enclosure but not multiple males. Being crevice dwellers, they’ll need multiple rock hides as well as a large basking rock. For larger enclosures, half and full height cement construction blocks work perfectly for these. For smaller enclosures, stacked, glued slate tiles works well. We also keep a large chunk of sealed driftwood in the cages for structural diversity. For individuals 2 years old and up, we also place a nestbox in the corner of the enclosure. This is usually a 10 gallon Roughneck Rubbermaid plastic container. This is filled ¾ full with a 50/50 mix of slightly damp playground sand and “Excavator” brand or similar clay-based soil. A 4” diameter hole is cut into the lid to allow the chucks access to the next box interior.   

We prefer clear Infra-Red bulbs for the basking sites and high output compact fluorescent bulbs for the background lighting. The goal is to produce as bright a cage as possible for 12 to13 hours per day. The average floor temperature should be in the high 90’s F (35C) with a basking spot temperature of 110F to 115F (44C to 48C).  South Mountain has summer night time temperatures in the mid 80’s, so shoot for similar temperatures in your enclosures. We maintain similar conditions throughout the year for non-breeding animals, maybe dropping the average temperatures by 10F to 15F during the winter months.

We rear both the adults and juveniles on a completely vegetarian diet. The base diet consists of a combination of commercial Spring Mix greens with added endive. The greens are dampened with fresh water and then alternately dusted with either Repashy Veggie Dust or Miner-All ® calcium/mineral supplement with vitamin D3.  The more finicky eaters can be enticed into eating by adding edible blooms such as dandelion, violas or nasturtiums to the mix. As the chucks approach maturity, we start adding whole moistened Mazuri® tortoise pellets to the mix.  The Mazuri pellets make up 50% of the diet  for adults and are easily the adults most preferred food  over all others.  A few individuals take a liking to small insects added to the diet (superworms, small crickets) and in small amounts these are probably a good treat. Adults do best without a water bowl in their enclosure while hatchlings generally need access to daily drinking water for the first few months of their lives.

 

Care for the redback chucks is identical to the above.  Even the island chucks are essentially the same.  The main difference is in the initial size of the hatchlings. The island chuck have huge babies which seem to grow faster than the mainland chucks.  They also seem to be much hardier.  We invariably lose a few hatchling mainland chucks each clutch but very rarely lose an island chuck hatchling.  Likewise the adults are noticeably hardier - especially the gravid females.  Mainland chuck females are notoriously delicate while gravid and we risk loosing some every breeding season.  To date the island chucks seem to take breeding and egg laying much more in stride and rarely seemed overly stressed by the process.

 

 

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We are avid supporters of captive breeding  and are always looking to support fellow breeders by purchasing healthy captively produced clutches of Chuckwallas.  Please let us know if you have an interest in wholesaling your clutches.  We hold all purchased specimens for a minimum of several weeks after being shipped to us so we can verify their condition and to let them settle in before being offered to our customers.  So you can rest assured your hatchlings will be well cared for.  We occasionally buy exceptional adults as well.  E-mail us photos  if you wish us to consider your specimens.

For those looking for hatchlings or older specimens,  please look over our various web pages to get a feel for what we carry.   Please see "Deer Fern Farms Ordering / Policies for ordering information.  Availability for the various species can be seasonal or sporadic so please e-mail or call us (360 435-2679) if you're looking for to add a Uromastyx or chuckwalla to your family.  We keep a "Wanted" list and fill it as specimens become available. 

We ship based on the prevailing weather patterns between us and you. Usually we can ship most weeks, but when large storms/severe heat/cold are forecasted, we prefer to hold off.   Please see  "Deer Fern Farms Ordering / Policies" for ordering information.


       

Email: douglasdix@deerfernfarms.com

Copyright © 1992-2012 by  Douglas Dix. All rights reserved for all photos and text