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Stellagama (=Laudakia) stellio picea (Spiny Lizard, Starred Agama or Hardun / Dikenli Keler)

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Stellagama (=Laudakia) stellio picea (Spiny Lizard, Starred Agama or Hardun / Dikenli Keler)

Stellagama (=Laudakia) stellio picea (Spiny Lizard, Starred Agama or Hardun / Dikenli Keler) [Female/Dişi] from Bosra, As Suwayda, Syria- 11.07.2010.

A middle-sized agamid lizard with a moderately depressed body. Total length reaches up to 35 cm, or slightly longer. The flat and triangular head is covered with asymmetrically distributed small scales and plates. Snout is longer than the distance eye-tympanum. Pupils are round. Spiny scales on the neck and sides of the head. The dorsum is covered with small and large scales. Ventral scales are smooth, callous glands, which are present in males, consist of 3-5 rows of modified scales in pre-cloacal position, and an isolated group of scales in the middle of abdomen, near umbilical scar. The tail is moderately depressed in its proximal part; the distal part is rounded or slightly oval in cross-section. The scales of the tail are arranged into distinct circular segments, each consisting of two whorls of enlarged mucronate (spiny) scales. The coloration is extremely variable, depending on race, sex, age and substrate.

Spiny lizard is widely distributed from Greece, Aegean islands, S Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, W Syria, N Iraq, Israel, NW Jordan, to Sinai and northern Egypt. Five subspecies of Laudakia stellio are recognised in addition to the nominotypic form within its wide range. Populations in Turkey belong to the nominotypic subspecies, L. s. stellio (S Turkey except Western parts and S Aegean islands, Syria, W Jordan, Israel and N. Sinai) and to L. s. daani (S Aegean islands and SW Turkey) . Evidently, there are intermediate forms in the contact zones between individual subspecies. Whereas in Cyprus an endemic subspecies, L. s. cypriaca lives. The important diagnostic features of the some races as follow:

1.)L. s. stellio: It is characterized by a narrow mid-dorsal zone of enlarged scales with regular offshoots between the flank scales. These enlarged scales are keeled but not very spinose. Adult animals generally have SVL of 9-12 cm. Length of tail in relation to this length averaging 1.43. Coloration is rather variable. Generally a dark grayish, brownish ground colour of head and body, against which a pattern of 4-5 vertebral patches is outlined. Behind the head, at both sides before the shoulders, sometimes a black collar spot is present. Finger and toes are short. [15-18 subdigital scales under the 3rd finger, 17-23 under 4th toe]. 2) L. s. daani: In Corfu and Sporades islands, and SW Turkey are darker and they have a bluish-grey head and body. The chin shows a clear spotted pattern.

3) L. s. cypriaca: It is characterized mainly by its long tail [Tail length reported on the snout-vent distance (SVL) ranges from 1.53-1.92, averaging 1.73. In other subspecies, this relation rarely exceeds 1.6.]. Finger and toes are long [19-22 subdigital scales under the 3rd finger, 22-28 under 4th toe]. In the dorsal scale arrangement, Cypriotic Spiny lizard resembles the nominotypic form. The small scales of the chin, especially in the region of the gular fold, are strongly spinose and in elder specimens there is a redish coloration on both head and body.

The other known subspecies [L. s. picea from S Syria, N Jordan, & NE Israel; L. s. brachydactyla from S. Israel, SW Jordan, E Sinai & adjacent parts of Saudi Arabia; L. s. vulgaris from N Egypt] are distributed in southern Levantine regions.

During our trip to Syria, we encountered with L. s. picea in Daraa region (SW Syria). Differentiation of L. s. picea is based mainly on its unique colour: males are typicaly jet black, often with yellow to orange (sometimes brownish) cross bars on the tail, sometimes with traces of yellow to orange spots on dorsum and toes. Females (and juvenilles) are black, with bright rounded yellow to orange spots on the head and body, those on body are arranged in rather irregular transverse rows. Intermediate colur forms occur in contact zone between L. s. stellio and L. s. picea.

Frequents stone walls, rocky areas and olive groves, can easily climb both on trees and rocks. Feeds mainly on insects (ants and other hymenopterans, orthopterans, mantids, beetles, butterflies, spiders, scorpions, mollusks), but can also ingest some plant material. it is the most commonly encountered reptile species in the close vicinity of human settlements, dense populations occur even in large cities. It is a diurnal, heliophilous lizard. Both males and females form hierarchies and maintain territories. A dominant male perches on the highest point of his territory. Typical display behaviour consists of series of vertical movements of the head and cranial third of the body. The submissive animals reply by flattening of their bodies and pushing the heads towards the surface. This be¬haviour of females is often accompanied by lateral undulations of the tail. Seasonal activity depends both on the altitude and latitude. A female lays 8-14 eggs.

References: 1. Göçmen, B. (Unpub. results). The results of herpetological trips. 2. Göçmen, B., Tosunoglu, M. & Taskavak, E. (2003). A Taxonomic Comparison of the Hardun, Laudakia stellio (Reptilia, Agamidae), Populations of Southern Turkey (Hatay) and Cyprus. Zoology in the Midle East, 28: 25-32 3. Göçmen, B., Kasot, N., Yildiz, M.Z., Sas, I., Akman, B., Yalçinkaya, D. & Gücel, S. (2008). Results of the Herpetological Trips to Northern Cyprus. North-Western Journal of Zoology, 4 (1): 139-149. 4. Budak, A. & Göçmen, B. (2005). Herpetology. Ege Üniversitesi Fen Fakültesi Kitaplar Serisi, No. 194, Ege Üniversitesi Basimevi, Bornova-Izmir, 226 pp. [2nd Edition, 2008]. 5. Disi, A. M., Modry, D., Necas, P. & Rifai, L. (2001). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Edition Chimaira, 408 pp. 6. Üçüncü, N., Göçmen, B. & Üçüncü, S. (2001). Protozoa Living in the Rectum of the Spiny-Lizard, Laudakia stellio stellio (Linnaeus, 1758) (Reptilia:Lacertilia) and Their Structures. T. Parazitol. Derg. (Acta Parasitologica Turcica), 25 (1): 78-82. 7. Atatür, M. K. & Göçmen, B. (2001). Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Cyprus [Kuzey Kibris'in Kurbaga ve Sürüngenleri], Ege Üniversitesi Fen Fakültesi Kitaplar Serisi, No. 170, Ege Üniversitesi Basimevi, Bornova-Izmir, 63 pp (ISBN 975-483-486-5) [In Turkish & English, 63 pp.].

Author Bayram GÖÇMEN
Created on Sunday 11 July 2010
Posted on Friday 15 July 2011
Tags As Suwayda / Süveyda, SYRIA/SURİYE
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