Giant girdled lizard

Cordylus giganteus

SUBFAMILY

Cordylinae

TAXONOMY

Cordylus giganteus A. Smith, 1844, interior districts of southern Africa.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Sungazer; French: Cordyle géant; German: Riesengürtelschweif.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Giant girdled lizards have very spiny scales, as well as four very large occipital spikes that adorn the back of their triangular head. The tail has whorls of very large spines. The body is yellow to dark brown, clouded with dark brown. Juveniles are more intensely marked, with irregular crossbars of red-brown on the back.

DISTRIBUTION

Restricted to the Highveld region of central South Africa. HABITAT

They live in flat or gently sloping grassland, with deep soil for their burrows.

BEHAVIOR

Found in diffuse colonies, they dig long burrows (up to 6 ft [1.8 m]) in deep soil. Usually only a single adult lives in a burrow, but it may be shared with juveniles. If a predator enters the burrow when the lizard is inside, the lizard backs along the tunnel toward the entrance, lashing its spiny tail from side to side in the face of the intruder. They often bask at the entrance to their burrow or on a nearby termite mound, staring at the sun—hence their common name. They are dormant during winter and rarely seen above ground from May to mid-August.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Sit-and-wait ambushers, they feed mainly on invertebrates (beetles, grasshoppers, millipedes, termites, and spiders), although they will take small vertebrates if the opportunity arises.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

One or two young, measuring up to 6 in (15 cm), are born from January to April, possibly only every two to three years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Their numbers are declining due to habitat destruction by agriculture and, to a limited extent, because of illegal collecting for the pet trade.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Because it was familiar and conspicuous to the early settlers of South Africa, the giant girdled lizard was chosen as the national lizard, and its images have adorned postage stamps and conservation posters. ♦

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