Chuckwallas  (S. ater / hispidus / varius)


2nd Generation Calico female ("PinkEars") 2nd Generation Calico male


Original Washington St Nesting Area Current Breeding Pen


Gravid  Calico Newly hatched Calico chuck -August 2009


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.  

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 about the same 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 initially somewhat skittish, most tame exceptionally well, are easy to keep, and make excellent companion or teaching / display animals.

Newly Hatched Calico

We primarily keep two species of larger Island chuckwallas. 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 very rarely bred in captivity. We have also worked with a small group of another island species - the San Esteban Island chuckwalla.  San Esteban's 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 currently 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.

Cosses were produced between the San Esteban and Angel Islands chucks by Native Americans and stocked on adjacent islands as a food source before the founding of America.  Most of these populations appear to have died out but the process was repeated by herpeticulturalist in the early 2000's as a way of legally producing a San Esteban-like chuck that the average reptile enthusiast could work with. 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 brighter coloration 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 chuckwalla to successfully breed in an indoor-only situation (heretofore deemed not possible). 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. The clutches for 2010 proven infertile again but we have successfully produced healthy babies every year after. We had issues with the group in the move to Florida but have still managed to produce a few which will be reared here for replacement breeding stock.  Ideally we hope to move part of the group to outdoor pens.  Time will tell will tell what they think.     



Basic Care Sheet

 for the

  Island Chuckwallas


Hatchlings and juveniles are usually banded in black and dull cream the entire length of their bodies. The cream bands often develop  a pink tint with time (at least in the Calicos and San Estibans), while in Angel Island's they eventually go dull grey. In terms of color, neither species is sexually dimorphic. Males and females both finish out about the same.  Male are generally larger by a good 10% or so and in the Angel Island, they get larger, more distinct spines around the neck.  Otherwise, the larger femoral pores and hemipenal bulges found in males are the most consistent means of differentiating the sexes. Initially the hatchlings can be reared communally in 40 gallon, bare-bottomed “Critter Keeper” format tanks (approx. 3’ long, 18” wide, 16” deep) until the hatchlings surpass  7” in total length. After that, you can either add washed small, smooth gravel or cypress-type mulches 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 work 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 15 gallon "tall" Roughneck Rubbermaid plastic container. This is filled ¾ full with a 50/50 mix of slightly damp playground sand and a  even mix of peat moss and “Excavator” brand or similar clay-based soil. An oblong  5” 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).  Night time temperatures should be in the low 80’s. We maintain similar conditions throughout the year for non-breeding animals, maybe dropping the average temperatures by 10F or so during the winter months.

We generally 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 SuperVeggie 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 25% 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.

 The island chucks have huge hatchlings which seem to grow much 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 with their first clutch 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.





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 / Pricing 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 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 need to hold off.   



Copyright © 1992-2018 by  Douglas Dix. All rights reserved for all photos and text