Along the west coast of South Africa, from the Orange River in the north (Little Namaqualand, Northern Cape Province) to the Piketberg Mountains in the south, and as far interior as Matjiesfontein in the western Karoo Basin, lies Cordylus cataphractus, also known as the armadillo lizard or armadillo girdled lizard.
The animal kingdom has developed protective morphologies such as the predominance of spines to fend off predators. A predator’s advantage during an assault is provided by body armour, which is moulded by functional trade-offs. Girdled lizards, such as the armadillo lizard, deal with the impact of environmental elements and predators on their body armour.
In order to comprehend selection pressures and diversification of protective features, this study investigates intraspecific variation in dermal armour in armadillo lizards. Environmental influences could affect body armour more than other variables.
In South Africa’s semi-desert Karoo area, armadillo lizards live in karroid veld, a form of flora. The predominant plant type in this environment is dwarf perennial shrubs. These lizards live in wide fissures found on rocky outcrops.
The physical characteristics of Armadillo Lizard
The term “armadillo” refers to the way these lizards look when they’re defending themselves. They resemble an armadillo when they are threatened; they curl up, lock their tail in their mouths, and create a tight, armoured ball. These lizards’ neck, torso, tail, and limbs are covered in rows of prickly osteodermate scales that prevent predators from grabbing or ingesting them. The lizard’s most vulnerable part, its delicate underside, is protected in this position. Males have more pronounced femoral pores and grow to be bigger than females.
The greatest nose-vent length is 105 mm, while the average is between 75 and 90 mm. The length of the tail is the same as the body length, or slightly less. The body is coloured straw to a dingy yellowish brown. Although it occasionally has an orange to olive tinge on the flanks, dorsal colour is typically uniform. On the back, dark brown infusions are typical. The top lip has a deep brown colour. Its flattened head and tail enable it to fit into cracks in rocks. When under peril, armadillo lizards can drop their own tail (autotomy) and gradually grow it again.
However, unlike many other lizard species, Cordylus cataphractus uses its tail as an essential component of its particular protective posture. Tail autotomy is only employed as a last option since the lizard will not give up its tail fast or readily. Cordylus cataphractus has incredibly strong jaws. They can chop off fingers or tiny limbs in a battle.
2.95 to 4.13 inches, or 75 to 105 mm
Internal fertilisation occurs in all squamates, including snakes and lizards. Being ovoviviparous, this species gives birth to one or two live offspring. Young people are essentially little grownups.
Social creatures by nature, armadillo lizards inhabit groups of two to sixty, on average, two to six. This is distinct since lizards do not often live in permanent groups. Research has demonstrated that family groupings are not the only type of group that exists, and there is a lot of intergroup migration. Young people, adults, and guys all depart and join other communities.
This migration takes place outside of the mating season as well as within it. Men are fiercely possessive. Space is divided among groups consisting of several guys. While there is some aggressiveness amongst men within a group, it is far less than what a man outside the group will do. There are no defined territories for females or youngsters. Males protect areas when several females are present.
Reproduction of Armadillo Lizard
Male armadillo lizards guard a certain region, and they mate with several females inside that territory. But females also traverse boundaries of territory in order to mate with other males. Although they were protective of their area, males did not appear to be protective of their partners. Because they raise their young in social groupings, this species is unusual.
The adult snout-vent (body) length of an armadillo lizard is around 95mm. Male sperm production peaks in the spring (September to October), right around the time that female ovulation occurs. This is the season for mating and courtship. At the conclusion of the dry season, in late summer or early autumn (March to April), females give birth to one, and very rarely to two, offspring. The fact that these lizards live in large families and share a specific rock crevice makes them special.
These groups usually comprise of a tiny juvenile offspring, a subadult, and an adult partner, however it’s possible that not all lizards in a group are related. Staying close to larger lizards can offer some safety to smaller ones, and adult armadillo lizards can even feed their young. Matrimony occurred between January and March in a captivity of armadillo lizards (whose seasons were inverted from those of South Africa). During this period, men aggressively sought women.
Sometime between September and December, females gave birth to a single big live young. The babies’ body lengths averaged 63.5 mm. Every year, females usually give birth to one quite big young. Because food is scarce during the hot, dry season on the karroo veld due to its severe seasonal climate, females must be able to restore their fat reserves and provide for the yolk of the embryo during the brief rainy season that occurs in the winter and spring.
Indeed, Cordylus cataphractus appears to have a rapid rate of energy replenishment. During the dry summer months, this species has a very low resting metabolic rate and extremely low activity levels; nevertheless, in the winter and spring, individuals quickly rebuild their fat reserves. Its propensity for living in groups and its capacity to provide its young with prolonged care may be connected to this ability.
With life spans of up to 20 to 25 years in captivity, Cordylus cataphractus is a potentially long-lived species. It appears that there is no known average or maximum life span in the wild.
Usually, home ranges consist of a nearby veld habitat and a cleft in the rock. When approached, foraging lizards typically seek refuge in a crack.
Interaction and Observation
Head bobbing, tail swaying, and tongue flicking are some of the gestures that armadillo lizards use to communicate with one another. When a lizard flicks its tongue, it might communicate to other lizards to stay away or to help in reproduction.
Insects are the primary food source for Cordylus cataphractus. Southern harvester termites (Hodotermes mossambicus), which are quite abundant during that time of year, are the main prey that armadillo lizards consume after spring rains. In the dry summer months, when termites are plentiful, they are quite busy; yet, when food is short, they become rather sedentary. In addition to plants, armadillo lizards also consume millipedes, beetles, and scorpions. During the dry season, they can swiftly put back the weight they lost by fasting.
There are probably numerous vertebrate predators that attack on armadillo lizards, although many may be deterred by their spiky defences. As is the case with many social animals, having a large number of vigilant colleagues keeping an eye out for danger might reduce the likelihood that a predator would approach unobserved.
The behaviour of an armadillo lizard quickly warns the others of the presence of a predator. Due of their slow movement and relative sluggishness, this type of lizard spends much of its time in cracks where it may hide. Living in a cooperative group allows them to have more time for escape. Predatory birds could be their greatest threat. Considering how frequently these lizards are illegally harvested for the pet trade, humans may pose the greatest threat.
Roles of Ecosystem
Insect populations may be somewhat managed by armadillo lizards, which consume termites and other insects. Presumably, other animals do not consume them in large enough quantities to have a discernible effect as a food source.
Positive Economic Importance for Humans
A unique look and ease of capture characterise armadillo lizards. They are caught and sold to other nations in the commercial pet trade. Despite the fact that it is unlawful to capture this species, poachers often transport them out of South Africa because enforcement is arduous. Although illegal and detrimental to lizard populations locally, some people make a living from this gathering, and some who acquire lizards as pets—possibly unaware that their purchase is unlawful—find the lizards interesting and entertaining.
Human Economic Importance: Negative
Regarding human interests, this animal poses no harm.
Due to illicit pet trade and habitat destruction, armadillo lizards—a endangered species—are becoming less common. Raising awareness of the illicit pet trade that harms armadillo lizards is the goal of Rare Pride Campaign Manager Morne Farmer in Namaqualand, South Africa. A 45% increase in the knowledge and identification of the species was attained through the distribution of posters and fact sheets as part of a campaign aimed at 24,000 community members. To secure this rare species’ survival, more conservation activities are required.