ATTRIBUTION: an anglicized version of the Cahuilla word čáxwal
The anglicized noun chuckwalla (variant: chuckawalla) – a derivative of the Cahuilla word čáxwal – is the only Cahuilla word to have been formally adopted into the English lexicon. The Cahuilla language belongs to the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Chuckwallas are generally found in the rocky desert areas of southeastern California, western Arizona, and adjacent areas. Various species also inhabit coastal islands. There are five species of chuckwalla, all within the genus Sauromalus; they are part of the iguana family, Iguanidae. A very bulky lizard, some chuckwalla species can reach an overall length of about 16 inches (40 cm); their tails are long and notably thick, tapering to a blunt tip. Loose folds of skin characterize their necks. Their bodies are covered in small, coarsely granular scales. Males are generally larger than females.
Primarily herbivores, chuckwallas feed on leaves, fruit, and the flowers of annuals and perennial plants with insects representing a supplementary prey. They are said to prefer yellow flowers, such as those of the brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). Chuckwallas are harmless to humans and may live for 25 years or more.
Males are seasonally and conditionally territorial, using a combination of color and physical displays, namely "push ups," head-bobbing, and gaping of the mouth to communicate and defend their territory.
Chuckwallas are active during the daytime and are dormant at night. They are exothermic, spending much of their mornings and winter days basking. These lizards are well adapted to desert conditions and are active at temperatures of up to 102°F (39°C). Chuckwallas hibernate during the cooler months.
When pursued, chuckwallas take refuge in narrow rock crevices. By inflating their lungs to increase the size of their bodies, chuckwallas render their removal from a hiding place quite difficult. The Cahuilla crafted a special stick to puncture inflated chuckwallas, making use of them as food.
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