Toadheaded agama

Phrynocephalus mystaceus

SUBFAMILY

Leiolepidinae

TAXONOMY

Phrynocephalus mystaceus Pallas, 1776, "Arenosis Naryn" and "deserti Comani." Two subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Bearded toad head.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

These small, brownish terrestrial lizards have large heads and peculiar pouches, or "beards," at the corners of their mouths that are expanded in threat displays.

DISTRIBUTION

The species occurs in extreme western Asia and the northern Caucasus along the Caspian Sea and across northern Iran and northern Afghanistan to central Asia.

HABITAT

It inhabits sand dunes and semideserts with sparse vegetation and also is found on hard soils covered with small pebbles.

BEHAVIOR

These lizards dig burrows in sandy areas between dunes. Fleeing individuals run long distances, up to 66 yd (60 m); pause briefly with the tail rolled up; and then, vibrating their bodies, rapidly sink into loose sand. If threatened, they adopt a defensive stance, raising up on their hind legs, opening their mouths wide, and hissing and sometimes lunging, with folds of skin spread out at both sides of their mouth. These red folds make the mouth look much wider than it actually is. They rock back and forth on their legs, whirling their tail in a spiral, and jump toward their antagonist. The entire performance is very menacing.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

These are sit-and-wait insectivores.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The species reaches sexual maturity at two years. Breeding takes place from late April to early July. Females are slightly larger than males and lay two clutches of two to three eggs. Young hatch in about 70 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The species can be maintained in terraria, where some her-petoculturists have succeeded in keeping them alive for seven to eight years. ♦

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