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Dipsosaurus dorsalis, Desert Iguana
Dr. Jessie Maisano - The University of Texas at Austin
The Deep Scaly Project
Dipsosaurus dorsalis
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Yale Peabody Museum (YPM 14376)

Image processing: Dr. Jessie Maisano
Publication Date: 05 May 2003


Dipsosaurus dorsalis, the desert iguana, occurs in southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, western and south-central Arizona, eastern and southern Baja California, northwestern Mexico, and some of the Gulf of California islands. Desert iguanas live in the sandy flats and hummocks characteristic of the creosote woodlands of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. The creosote bush provides food, shelter, and kangaroo rat burrowing sites that are readily used to escape predation and extreme heat. These lizards are primarily herbivorous, eating flowers, buds, fruits and leaves of many annuals and perennials, especially creosote. In addition to vegetation, insects, feces (mammal and lizard) and carrion have been reported in their diets.

Dipsosaurus dorsalis

The desert iguana is aptly named as it is more heat-tolerant than any other North American reptile. Dipsosaurus dorsalis both emerges and remains active later in the day than most lizards, and body temperatures of 45 C have been recorded -- well above lethal levels for most lizard species.

Dipsosaurus dorsalis is an iguanid lizard. Iguanids, the 'true iguanas', include eight genera (see also Ctenosaura pectinata, the Mexican spinytail iguana), and within these Dipsosaurus is generally thought to be near the base of the lineage. Iguanids are diagnosed in part by their flared and polycuspate teeth, which are visible in the animations above; these almost certainly reflect the desert iguana's primarily herbivorous lifestyle.

About the Species

This frozen specimen was collected in the vicinity of the intersection of Kelbaker Rd. and Rt. 66, San Bernadino County, California by J. Gauthier 21 May 2001. It was made available to the University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility for scanning by Dr. Jessie Maisano of The University of Texas and Dr. Jacques Gauthier of Yale University. Funding for scanning was provided by an NSF grant (DEB-0132227) to Dr. Jack Sites of Brigham Young University. Funding for image processing was provided by a National Science Foundation Assembling the Tree of Life grant (EF-0334961), The Deep Scaly Project: Resolving Squamate Phylogeny using Genomic and Morphological Approaches, to Drs. Jacques Gauthier of Yale University, Maureen Kearney of the Field Museum, Jessie Maisano of The University of Texas at Austin, Tod Reeder of San Diego State University, Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum, Jack Sites of Brigham Young University, and John Wiens of SUNY Stonybrook.

Dipsosaurus dorsalis

About this Specimen

The specimen was scanned by Matthew Colbert on 19 December 2002 along the coronal axis for a total of 660 slices. Each 1024x1024 pixel slice is 0.0468 mm thick, with an interslice spacing of 0.0468 mm and a field of reconstruction of 22 mm.

About the

Avery, D. F., and W. W. Tanner. 1971. Evolution of the iguanine lizards (Sauria: Iguanidae) as determined by osteological and myological characters. Brigham Young University Science Bulletin, Biological Series 12:1-79,

de Queiroz, K. 1987. Phylogenetic systematics of iguanine lizards: a comparative osteological study. University of California Publications, Zoology 118:1-203.

Frost, D. R., and R. Etheridge. 1989. A phylogenetic analysis and taxonomy of iguanian lizards (Reptilia: Squamata). University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publication 81:1-65.

Frost, D. R., R. Etheridge, D. Janies, and T. A. Titus. 2001. Total evidence, sequence alignment, evolution of polychrotid lizards, and a reclassification of the Iguania (Squamata: Iguania). American Museum Novitates 3343:138.

Sites, J. W. Jr., S. K. Davis, T. Guerra, J. B. Vverson, and H. L. Snell. 1996. Character congruence and phylogenetic signal in molecular and morphological data sets: a case study in the living iguanas (Squamata, Iguanidae). Molecular Biology and Evolution 13:1087-1105.

Zug, G. R. 1993. Herpetology. Academic Press, San Diego.

Dipsosaurus dorsalis page from desertmuseum.org

Care sheet for desert iguanas

& Links

Three-dimensional volumetric renderings of the skull with the scleral ossicles, hyoid and jaw removed, and of the isolated left mandible. All are 2mb or less.

Skull pitch movie

Skull roll movie

Mandible yaw movie

Mandible pitch movie

Mandible roll movie


To cite this page: Dr. Jessie Maisano, The Deep Scaly Project, 2003, "Dipsosaurus dorsalis" (On-line), Digital Morphology. Accessed July 22, 2024 at http://digimorph.org/specimens/Dipsosaurus_dorsalis/.

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