Spiny agama

Agama hispida

SUBFAMILY

Agaminae

TAXONOMY

Agama hispida Bocage, 1896, Angola. Two subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Desert agama, ground agama.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Spiny agamas are medium-size, usually terrestrial lizards; however, they do climb up perches, such as fence posts. Males have a blue head, a bright red nape, and yellow shoulders. Females are drab, with orange, brown, and cream splotches. These lizards possess two fanglike canine teeth large enough to draw blood, which probably are used to pierce the hard elytra of beetle prey.

DISTRIBUTION

The species occurs in western Cape Horn and adjacent regions of southern Africa, including most of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts in Namibia, South Africa, and southern Botswana.

HABITAT

They inhabit interdunal streets in arid semidesert, open sandy veld, salt pans, and coastal sand dunes.

BEHAVIOR

These lizards dig short tunnels at the base of bushes. They do not live in colonies but are solitary.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Spiny agamas are sit-and-wait ambush predators. Their diet consists mostly of ants, beetles, and termites. Small amounts of plant foods also are eaten

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

During the breeding season males are colorful, with blue heads, bright red napes, and yellow shoulders. Males defend territories and mate with several females that reside inside the territory. Females lay large numbers of fairly small eggs. The average size of 45 clutches was reported as 13.4 eggs.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Local myth has it that spiny agamas climb trees or posts to scan the horizon for rain. Locals also warn that these lizards are venomous, saying that agamas do not make their own poison but rather obtain venom by "milking" cobras. When questioned further, Afrikaaners explain that the lizards are often seen with their heads inside a cobra's mouth, extracting cobra venom. Of course, a more likely and simpler alternative explanation for such an observation is simply that cobras eat these lizards! ♦

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