Armadillo girdled lizard

A short, stout creature that has turned its skin into a shield

Paul Korecky

A small yet distinctive reptile native to the desert areas of the Northern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. Its preferred habitat comprises arid, rocky outcrops and scrublands with ample places to hide from predators and search for food.

This lizard’s most striking feature is its armor-like appearance. Its body is covered in tough, spiny scales that provide protection against predators. When threatened, it has a unique defense mechanism of biting onto its own tail, curling into a ball similar to an armadillo, hence its name. This posture protects its softer underbelly and presents a spiny exterior to potential predators. Its coloration, ranging from light to dark brown, helps it blend into the rocky environment to avoid detection.

Armadillo girdled lizards are typically around 16 to 21 centimeters (6.3 to 8.3 inches) in length, including the tail. Their diet is carnivorous, with a strong preference for insects, particularly termites, which are abundant in their habitat. During the winter months, when food is scarce, they are known to brumate (a form of hibernation for reptiles) and reduce their food intake, which reduces competition within their social groups for the available resources.

These lizards are known for their social behavior, often found basking in groups, which can help with thermoregulation and protection against predators. They exhibit live birth, which is unusual for reptiles, and give birth to one or two live young rather than laying eggs.

The armadillo girdled lizard is considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN due to its limited distribution and the threat of over-collection for the pet trade. They are also affected by habitat loss due to mining and farming. As a result, this species is legally protected, and the collection from the wild is restricted to help prevent further decline in their populations.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
South Africa
NT
2021
Western Cape, Northern Cape

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No