Saint Lucia whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzoi)

Portrait of female Saint Lucia whiptail
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Saint Lucia whiptail fact file

Saint Lucia whiptail description

GenusCnemidophorus (1)

The male Saint Lucia whiptail is a visually striking lizard with a vivid blue-green tail, speckled with turquoise, and a bright yellow underside. The head and body are black, fading to grey on the flanks with white spots that run along the sides to the head (3). Coincidentally, the yellow, blue and black colouration of the male Saint Lucia whiptail matches the colours of the national flag of Saint Lucia (4), its native country (1). The female Saint Lucia whiptail has a less conspicuous appearance and is a coppery brown with cream-coloured stripes on the body and a whitish belly (3). Juveniles of both sexes have the appearance of an adult female, and some males may retain this colouration when they reach sexual maturity (2)

Also known as
St Lucia whiptail.
Male head-body length: 9.6 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 10.37 cm (2)
Male weight: 29.59 g (2)
Female weight: 31.78 g (2)

Saint Lucia whiptail biology

The Saint Lucia whiptail is a ground-dwelling lizard that is active during the daytime, when it forages in the leaf litter and digs through soil to find prey. Its diet consists primarily of invertebrates (such as insects and scorpions), but also carrion and fruit (5) (10) (11).

If this species loses its tail, it is capable of re-growing it, although this process is rather costly in terms of energy. Tail loss seems to occur quite frequently in Saint Lucia whiptails, which is thought to result from competition with other Saint Lucia whiptails. A male may, for example, incur injury to its tail when competing for, or guarding, a female (6)


Saint Lucia whiptail range

The Saint Lucia whiptail is native to Maria Major and Maria Minor, two small islands situated off the coast of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. It can also be found on Praslin Island where it was introduced in 1995 (5), and Rat Island where it was introduced in 2008 (10).


Saint Lucia whiptail habitat

This lizard prefers to live in areas of dense leaf litter cover. The adults tend to occupy areas of open understory, while the juveniles prefer to stay in long grasses and dense thickets in order to gain protection from potential predators (2).


Saint Lucia whiptail status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Saint Lucia whiptail threats

The Saint Lucia whiptail is vulnerable to threats including habitat loss, and catastrophic events like fires or hurricanes. The most severe threat, however, is probably from invasive mammalian predators, notably the black rat (7) and the small Asian mongoose (the latter most likely the reason it is now only found on mongoose-free offshore islands). In 2006 it was estimated that approximately 2,300 individuals were left in the wild (7), and due to its very restricted range, this species is now considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild (1).


Saint Lucia whiptail conservation

In 1995, 42 Saint Lucia whiptails were relocated from Maria Major onto nearby Praslin Island in an attempt to create another stable and secure population. Praslin Island was chosen because it was ecologically suitable, uninhabited and smaller than Maria Major. As it was smaller than Maria Major it allowed exotic mammals, for example the predatory black rat, to be more easily eradicated (8) (12). Follow-up studies have suggested that the translocated population has successfully colonized Praslin Island (6) (7) (13). In 2008, another population was founded on Rat Island (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on wildlife conservation in the Caribbean see:



Authenticated (09/07/10) by Matthew Morton, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, c/o - Forestry Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Castries, Saint Lucia, West Indies.

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


The flesh of a dead animal.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, and spiders
When individual living organisms from one area have been transferred and released or planted in another area.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. John, C.L. (1999) Population and Habitat of the St. Lucia Whiptail Lizard (Cnemidophorus vanzoi) on Praslin Island, St. Lucia (West Indies). Forestry Department, The Ministry of Agriculture, and Fisheries, Castries, St Lucia, West Indies.
  3. Morton, M.N. (2009) Management of Critical Species on Saint Lucia:
    Species Profiles and Management Recommendations
    . Technical  Report  No.
    13  to  the  National  Forest  Demarcation  and  Bio-Physical Resource
    Inventory Project, FCG International Ltd, Helsinki, Finland. Government
    of Saint Lucia.
  4. Bell, C.E. (2001) Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos: Volume 3. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago.
  5. Rowe, G., Dickinson, H.C., Gibson, R., Funk, S.M. and Fa, J.E. (2002) St Lucia whiptail lizard Cnemidophorus vanzoi. Molecular Ecology Notes, 2: 124–126.
  6. Dickinson, H.C. and Fa, J.E. (2000) Abundance, demographics and body condition of a translocated population of St Lucia Whiptail lizards (Cnemidophorus vanzoi). Journal of Zoology, 251(18): 7-197.
  7. Young, R.P., Fa, J.E., Ogrodowczyk, A., Morton, M., Lesmond, S. and Funk, S.M. (2006) The St Lucia whiptail lizard Cnemidophorus vanzoi: a conservation dilemma? Oryx, 40: 358-361.
  8. Powell, R. and Henderson, R.W. (2005) Conservation status of Lesser Antillean reptiles. Iguana, 12: 62–77.
  9. Morton, M.N. (2008) A Genetic Rescue for the Saint Lucia Whiptail Lizard. Unpublished report to Saint Lucia Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, forestry & Fisheries and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Available at:
  10. Brice, S. and Bloxam, Q. (1998) Understanding Translocation Possibilities for a Teiid lizard in St. Lucia: Distribution, Density of the Source Population and Ecological Aspects of the Target. Unpublished report to Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust.
  11. Schwartz, A. and Henderson, R.W. (1991) Amphibians and Reptiles of the West Indies. Descriptions, Distributions, and Natural History. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida.
  12. Johnson, J.P., Anthony, D. and Bloxam, Q.M.C. (1994) Rat eradication from Praslin Island: the St. Lucia whiptail lizard conservation programme. Dodo, Journal of the Wildlife Preservation Trusts, 30: 114-118.
  13. Brown, H. (2008) Assessing the Translocation of the St Lucia Whiptail Lizard Cnemidophorus vanzoi: A Retrospective Analysis of Abundance, Demographics and Habitat Utilization. Unpublished MSc Thesis, Imperial College, London.

Image credit

Portrait of female Saint Lucia whiptail  
Portrait of female Saint Lucia whiptail

© Gregory Guida /

Gregory Guida


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