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Starred Agama

Starred Agama – Laudakia stellio

Laudakia stellio

During my recent trip to Cyprus to photograph insects and butterflies I saw a lot of lizards. It was a bit of a herpetologist’s dream. In England we only have two lizards, the Viviparous and the Sand Lizard. In Cyprus there are eleven. The largest of which is the Starred Agama Laudakia stellio, also known as the Sling-tailed Agama, Star or Spiny Lizard. The Agamids, a very ancient order of reptiles are represented by only one species in Europe although there are over 300 world wide. However, there are many recognised subspecies throughout the mediterranean, particularly on the islands. Ladakia stellio cypriaca is endemic to Cyprus.

On my way to an early morning swim I’d see them basking on the rocky cliff edges, soaking up the sun, waiting motionless for unsuspecting insects or even smaller lizards to venture into range. It was possible to get remarkably close at times – good for photography – but chance it too far and quick as a flash they’d scuttle over the edge and disappear into a nearby crack or hole. Or run up a tree, they were remarkably good climbers – take a look at those claws. If they felt threatened the males would bob their heads up and down in quite a comical way. Sometimes I’d see dozens at a time. This is a common and widespread species that’s tolerant of a wide range of habitat and man, but there is some concern now about habitat loss due to coastal development and over-collection in some countries for the pet trade, especially in North Africa.

The Agamas I saw were generally a uniform browny-grey colour although some were a darker charcoal grey. I did notice that a few of the smaller ones were more patterned and mottled, some strikingly so. What I didn’t realise until I get home and did some research is just how variable in colour this species can be. In fact the colouration of both individuals and the various subspecies can vary enormously. Not only is it generally lighter when warm and darker when cold but it is capable of colour changes to suit its environment. In addition, dominant males can actually become quite brightly coloured, often showing reddish, rusty-brown, tan, blue and even turquoise colouring. Some individuals can even have pale yellow or red heads, pale or dark-spotted throats or conspicuously banded tails. The subspecies picea for example can be almost black with quite vivid orange markings. Photo courtesy of Henry Tucker. 

Incidentally, if you are interested in keeping this species of lizard as a pet please be advised that wild caught specimens can be extremely nervous and difficult to tame. In comparison, captive bred specimens, especially the hybrids, can become very tame indeed.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice posting…

    However, you’re wrong about there only being two species of lizard in the UK….

    In addition to the Common Lizard and the Sand Lizard we have the Slow Worm, which is a legless lizard!

    There are also colonies of Green lizards in Kent, but we won’t count them…

    June 4, 2013
    • Hello Justin,

      You’re correct about the Slow Worm, Anguis fragilis, being a legless lizard. So yes I should have said three. In regard to the others I was really talking about our native species, rather than locally introduced species. But if you count introduced species, then there is the European Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis or the Western Green Lizard, Lacerta bilineata (you’ll need to check the DNA) and the Common Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis, which have become locally established (naturalised).

      June 4, 2013
  2. Actually it is the only species of agamid native to Europe. I am from Greece and my country is the only place where it can be found on continental Europe, as well as on the many islands. There are not many of them where I live though. In fact it is a middle eastern species with the extremes of its distribution in Greece in Europe and in Egypt in Africa. It has been now reclassified as the only member of Stellagama (Stellagama stellio), and it is probable that its many species will be broken up into new species in the future.
    The antiquity of the agamids together with the other iguanians has been disputed. Of course they aren’t the most reecent of lizard clades, but they aren’t near the base of squamates as formerly thought. They belong in toxicofera, a clade with a venomous ancestor together with anguids, varanids and snakes, from most descendants of whome the venom was reduced or lost later.
    I believe if anyone wants to keep them as pets, he must try to have more than one, so to breed them and increase the captive population. I have heard that the more sutherly arabian subspecies are calmer than the northern ones. I have a bearded dragon, and, although it is much different, for example it is more herbivorous and much slower, it is in many respects similar, for example basks a lot, changes color slightly etc. Agamids in general are exclusively diurnal ambush predatorsl.
    Did you observe them enough? Did you watch them eating anything, fighting etc?
    ps. Don’t you have the slowworm in Britain too, as well as the wall lizard and some other introduced species?

    April 23, 2015
    • Hello Bolko, I’m actually in Cyprus at the moment so will do my best to observe their behaviour in more detail. And yes, as Justin correctly pointed out I should have included our Slow Worm, a legless lizard.

      April 27, 2015

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