Arabian toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus)

Also known as: blacktail toadhead agama
GenusPhrynocephalus (1)

The Arabian toad-headed agama is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the IUCN Red List (1).

The Arabian toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus) is a member of the Agamidae family, also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth (2). These lizards are also known as the chameleons of the Old World due to their striking ability to change their body colour (3). They typically have a wide, strong, flattened body, covered in rough skin with overlapping scales, and a long, flattened tail which is rounded at the base (3) (4). The Arabian toad-headed agama is a fairly small lizard that is highly adapted to life on loose sand. It has no external ear openings and fringes of long scales around the eyes keep out sand grains. The head is short and broad with a deep forehead and snub nose. It is highly variable in colour with various patterns of black, white and reddish markings, and it tends to match the colour of its background. As such, lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those lizards on red, inland sands (5). All variations, however, retain a black tip on the underside of the tail which, when raised, is used in visual signals (2).

The Arabian toad-headed agama is found in south-eastern Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. It may also occur in southern Iraq, but its presence there is unknown (6).  

The Arabian toad-headed agama inhabits desert regions (5).

Scurrying across the sand, seeking out its insect prey, the Arabian toad-headed agama is active in all but the hottest hours of the day. During the hottest periods, it will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. It may remain dormant during cold winter days (5). The Arabian toad-headed agama is able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter (3) (5). Most agamid lizards are egg layers, producing a clutch of one to seven eggs, which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow (2) (4).

Like many other species of reptile in the Middle East, the Arabian toad-headed agama is a fairly understudied species. As such, it is currently unclear if there are many major threats to the species (7).

The Arabian toad-headed agama has not been the target of any known specific conservation measures.

Find out more about the conservation of reptiles:

For further information on conservation in the United Arab Emirates:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Firouz, E. (2005) The Complete Fauna of Iran. I. B. Tauris Publishers, London.
  4. Ananjeva, N.B., Orlov, N.L., Khalikov, R.G., Darevsky, I.S. and Barabanov, A. (2006) The Reptiles of Northern Eurasia: Taxonomic Diversity, Distribution, Conservation Status. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  5. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  6. The Reptile Database (September, 2010)
  7. Alsharhan, A. et al. (2008) Terrestrial Environment of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.