Armadillo girdled lizard (Cordylus cataphractus)

Also known as: Armadillo spiny-tailed lizard
Synonyms: Cordylus nebulosus
French: Cordyle D'Armadillo, Lézard À Queue Épineuse D'Armadillo
GenusCordylus (1)
SizeAverage snout-vent length: 75 – 90 mm (2)
Maximum snout-vent length: 105 mm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

This heavily armoured reptile is named after the armadillo for its ability to roll itself into an almost impregnable ball when threatened. In this position, the spiny scales covering the neck, body and tail are presented to any potential predator, protecting the soft belly (2). The stocky, flattened body of the armadillo girdled lizard is a dirty yellowish-brown to straw colour, with a yellow throat, blotched with dark brown (2) (4). It has a broad, triangular head with a dark brown upper lip. The tail, which is ringed with large spines, can be shed in periods of danger and regenerated, although slowly and poorly (2).

Occurs along the west coast of South Africa, from the Orange River south to the Piketberg Mountains, and as far inland as Matjiesfontein (2) (4).

The armadillo girdled lizard inhabits dry, succulent, karroid veld. It lives in large cracks in rocky outcrops, where its thick scales protect the body from abrasion (2).

Unusually for a lizard, the diurnal armadillo girdled lizard is a sociable reptile (2) (5), with between 1 and 30 individuals sharing a rock crevice for long periods. Normally these groups comprise an adult pair along with subadults and juveniles (6). When resting in a crack in a rock, the armadillo girdled lizard is well protected and its spiny scales make it virtually impossible for anything to remove it from its shelter (2). If out in the open, the armadillo rock lizard will retreat back to the rock at the first sign of danger (2), but it is a slow runner making it vulnerable to predation (7). However, this lizard does have another clever way of protecting itself. If caught by a predator or a human, it will curl up, grip its tail in its jaws and form a tight, armoured ball in the manner of an armadillo. In this position, the soft underparts are protected and the lizard is too spiky for many predators to eat (2), although this tactic does prove ineffective against birds of prey (5).

The armadillo girdled lizard feeds largely on insects, which are attracted to the abundant flowers of the region it inhabits (2). The most important prey is the southern harvester termite (Microhodotermes viator), but it is also known to feed on items such as millipedes, scorpions and plant material (8).

Mating in the armadillo girdled lizards takes place in spring (4), and each year females give birth to a single, large young at the end of April, at the end of the dry season before the winter rains commence in May (9) (10). These reptiles become sexually mature when they reach a snout-vent length of about 95 millimetres (9).

This heavily armoured lizard is threatened by illegal collection for the pet trade (2) (4). Unfortunately, it can be a fairly sluggish mover and so relatively easily caught when out in the open (6), and the fact that it lives in groups makes this attractive reptile particularly vulnerable (4).

The armadillo girdled lizard is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3).

Authenticated (18/06/08) by Johannes Els, Cape Reptile Institute.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)