Copyright R. Wiles
Many people believe the desert is a barren, dry place with little life. How wrong they are! Although a desert does have scorching sun and little rain, many animals both survive and thrive in these environments—and White Sands National Monument is no exception.
Approximately 33 species of reptiles make their homes within the boundaries of the monument. Of these, only three live within the dunefield itself—the Bleached Earless Lizard, the Little Striped Whiptail, and the Southwestern Plateau Lizard. These lizards have evolved a white coloration that acts as a camouflage, allowing them to blend in with the sand and making it harder for predators to see them. While the populations of lizards that live within the dunes are white in color, there are dark-colored populations of each of these species that live in the high desert scrub.
The rest of the monument's reptiles tend to stay mostly in the high desert scrub areas where there is plenty of vegetation, although some do wander around the interdunal areas where smaller plants and grasses grow quite profusely. The reason for this is that prey animals such as small rodents and birds tend to stay near the vegetation. The plants also provide a place for them to retreat from the sun should they happen to be out during the day.
Copyright Vicente Mata Silva
Some of the other lizards at the monument include the Common Checkered Whiptail and the Common Side-Blotched Lizard. The Common Checkered Whiptail grows to only about two to four inches long. Interestingly, this all-female species is asexual and reproduces via parthenogenesis, which means that the development of an embryo within the egg occurs without the need for fertilization.
The Common Side-Blotched Lizard grows to about 5.5 inches and is found all over the monument. While other lizards go into a state of torpor (light hibernation) in the winter, the Side-Blotched Lizard is active on warm days all year. Males will roam in an area of about 2,500 square yards and are territorial, especially during breeding season. Females lay up to three clutches of two to five eggs a year.
Other reptiles, like the Prairie Rattlesnake and Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, are mostly nocturnal hunters and are rarely seen during the day. They usually wait until the cool of the evening before they set out from their dens in search of prey. Since both of these snakes are venomous, do not attempt to handle or get close to one should you be fortunate enough to see them. Left alone, they will crawl off peacefully but will bite if cornered or if you get too close to them.
NPS Photo/Fort Union
Other common snakes at the monument include the Sonoran Gopher Snake and the Western Coachwhip. Both snakes are non-venomous and harmless to humans but like with all wildlife, always observe them from a distance. The Western Coachwhip is a long, slender tan or brown snake that can reach up to seven feet in length. Most of the coachwhips at White Sands have a pink color on their belly that becomes more pronounced under the tail.