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Namibian Lizards


Lizards are reptiles closely related to snakes. Like snakes some of them are legless whilst others resemble snakes but have legs. The larger lizards take on a 'crocodile' appearance, but overall they come in all shapes, sizes and colours which helps their defensive capabilities.

As lizards do not have the built-in temperature controls of most other animals, they tend to live in areas where the ground doesn't freeze and in cold winters lizards hibernate. They are the most common of reptiles in deserts, such as the Namib Desert, and other dry regions such as the Kalahari Desert. If the desert temperature does becomes too hot for lizards, they will seek shade or go under the sand to escape the hot sunshine. Other areas of special interest to enjoy lizards are the Auas Mountains in Central Namibia and the Etosha Pan.

Lizards are cunning creatures and as with snakes can defend themselves in a variety of ways. Like snakes, lizards bluff or play tricks such as swelling up, lashing the tail and hissing. African chameleons are famous for changing colour and other lizards have the same gift. Although it is widely believed chameleons change colour to camouflage themselves from enemies, they also can turn a darker colour to absorb more heat from the sun's rays.

Unlike snakes, some lizards can eat plants although insects and small animals feature regularly on the menu. Reproduction is by depositing eggs in nests whilst others are hatched inside the females. Lizards are measured from the tip of the snout to the vent on the body, directly behind the rear limbs, annotated as SVL (Snout Vent length).

Agamas belong to the Family Agaidae and are small to large lizards with either a flattened or a cylindrical shaped body. They have large heads, well-developed limbs with a narrowing long tail that cannot be shed or regenerated. Agamas are active during the day and mainly terrestrial, although some species are specific to living in trees or amongst rocks. Some species feed on ants, whilst others are predominately herbivores. They are known to form social groups with territorial patterns that are well-developed and displays include the males showing off brightly-coloured crests, frills or throat fans common. Agamas are closely related to chameleons and there are only 2 subfamilies in southern Africa. They are:

The bushveld lizard (Heliobolis lugubris) is closely related to sand and desert lizards.

There is only 1 species of festive gecko in Namibia. It is a very small gecko with long, slender, clawed toes that do not have 'sticky' scansors.

Girdled lizards belong to the Family Cordylidae and are so called because of their body scale arrangement hence the name. The scales on the tail are set in regular rings and are spiny and the tail can be shed and regenerated, although slowly and not the original condition. They have a short tongue covered with long papillae. The head of a girdled lizard is triangular and flattened on the top and covered with large shield that are fused to the skull.

They are mainly a rock dwelling although some species do live in trees or on the ground. Rock living species are protected from the abrasiveness of moving between rock surfaces by their rough scales. This is also a safety advantage when escaping from predators along with the ability to sneak into rock crevices and inflating the body and shortening and thickening the skull, possible due to the unusual head hinged structure.

A wide variety of large vertebrates are eaten by girdled lizards, whilst some of the larger members of the species add plants and small vertebrates to their menu. Females give birth to between 1 to 6 young each year when males become territorial during the breeding season. There are 6 species of girdled lizards found in Namibia and 3 of them are endemic to the country. They are:

Monitors belong the Family Varanidae and are the largest of the lizards. They are not poisonous and all living monitors are similar in appearance, with well-developed limbs and strong claws. The tail cannot be shed or regenerated as with other species of lizard. Smaller species eat insects whilst larger monitors will take anything it can overpower. Prey might be torn to shred by their claws or even consumed whole. Little is known of their breeding habits as they are shy creatures with sightings and observations of their mating habits and egg-laying uncommon. Females lay large, soft-shelled eggs in termite nests or holes. As the skins are an attractive item for hunters and poachers to pass on to the fashion industry, all varinids are a protected species in southern Africa.

There are 2 species of monitors found in Namibia. They are:

Plated lizards belong to the Family Gerrhosauridae and have strong legs and longish tails. Members of the species that live in grasslands can take on a snake-like appearance as their limbs are somewhat reduced. The head has large, symmetrical head shields and the body is covered with rectangular plates that overlap (hence the name).

They are diurnal, oviparous lizards and although they are terrestrial, some species will find their way into rock crevices. There are 3 subfamilies of plated lizards in Namibia. They are:

A small genus that to a lizard run around on the ground on sandy soil in savannah. Females lay eggs and die soon after the first egg is laid. Rough-scaled lizards of Namibia are:

Sand lizards are a group with cylindrical bodies and long tails. They are diurnal and terrestrial in nature, often seen dashing between clumps of sparse vegetation. These lizards lay small clutches of soft-shelled eggs with 5 species endemic to Namibia. Sand lizards of Namibia are:

Sandveld lizards have rounded snouts, a cylindrical body and a longer than usual tail. They are fairly common creatures in their distribution range, but are rarely seen because of their secretive nature, even though they are terrestrial lacertids. They forage early morning and late afternoon/early evening, which is the best time to try and catch a glimpse of them tucking into flying termites.

Some species feed on scorpions. Unlike other lizards who lie in wait to ambush their prey, sandveld lizards will go out to hunt for their food. Predators include birds of prey and snakes. Some species having brightly coloured tails to fend offer attackers, which protects the more vulnerable areas of head and body.

Identification of many species of lizards are done by scale count, but colouration and distribution can also be reliably used in determining different species. Sandveld lizards in Namibia are:

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