Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica)

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Cophotis ceylanica on branch
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Pygmy lizard fact file

Pygmy lizard description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyAgamidae
GenusCophotis (1)

The pygmy lizard is one of 14 agamid species endemic to Sri Lanka (1). One of the slowest-moving reptiles in the country, the pygmy lizard can be easily identified by the irregular-shaped body scales and unique, curled, prehensile tail (2). Adults are dark brown, and males bare a distinctive white stripe from their snout to their shoulder, and white rings around their tail.

Also known as
Dwarf lizard, prehensile-tailed agama, small-horned lizard.
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Pygmy lizard biology

Few studies of the pygmy lizard have taken place and little is therefore known of its biology, but more general information does exist on agamids as a family. Agamids are diurnal and visually-orientated, with their crests and other ornamentation thought to serve as important signals in establishing and maintaining territories or in courtship (5). Unlike the vast majority of agamids (5), the pygmy lizard does not lay eggs, but rather gives birth to live young after the eggs hatch within its body, a process known as ovoviviparity (6). This is thought to be an adaptation to the cold montane climate, where eggs may be exposed to chilling overnight (6).

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Pygmy lizard range

Confined to Horton Plains, Hakgala and the Knuckles Mountain range in Sri Lanka (1). Many experts suspect that the Knuckles population is distinct from the populations found elsewhere in the country and may qualify as separate subspecies (3) (4).

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Pygmy lizard habitat

Found in tropical moist montane forests, between 1,300 and 2,200 m above sea level (1).

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Pygmy lizard status

Classified as Endangered (EN) using the IUCN (2001) Red List criteria (1), but not yet officially listed on the IUCN Red List.

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Pygmy lizard threats

Pygmy lizard populations suffered mass mortality during the mid-1990s in the Nuwara Eliya and Hakgala areas, where hundreds of specimens died daily, plummeting the previously high populations into virtual extinction. The population at the Knuckles Mountains is thought to have endured a similar drastic population crash, and there were even fears that the population was extinct, until a handful of individuals were located in the 2004/5 research expeditions known as Project Knuckles. The precise causes are unknown, although these deaths are believed to be a result of climatic changes (3). Sri Lanka’s montane forest have also experienced severe habitat fragmentation and loss during the last two centuries as a result of clearance for cinchona, coffee, tea, cardamom and rubber plantations, for grazing livestock, by logging companies, illegal logging and removal of timber by peripheral villagers. In addition, further threats facing other Sri Lankan agamids include rainwater acidification causing forest die-back, and pesticides potentially causing bioaccumulation (1).

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Pygmy lizard conservation

Project Knuckles 2004, and a follow-up expedition in 2005, were initiated to conduct the first in-depth study of reptiles and the primary threats facing them in the Knuckles Mountain Range. It was discovered that the region held some of the highest reptile diversity in the country, and is therefore an important site for conservation. As of 2000, areas above 1,067 m above sea level in the Knuckles Mountains were given protected status as conservation forest (3). With 11 out of Sri Lanka’s 17 agamid species being threatened with extinction, in what is the most heavily populated of the world’s 25 Biodiversity Hotspots, this group of lizards and their diminishing forest habitat are clearly in need of serious conservation attention. It is vital that threatened species restricted to small forest fragments, such as the pygmy lizard, be continuously monitored to assess population trends and, if necessary, the establishment of captive-breeding programmes could play an important role in ensuring their future survival (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Pygmy lizard and other threatened agamids of Sri Lanka see:

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Authentication

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: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Bioaccumulation
The process by which the concentrations of some toxic chemicals gradually increase in living organisms as they breathe contaminated air, drink contaminated water, or eat contaminated food.
Diurnal
Active during the day.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Prehensile
Capable of grasping.
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References

  1. Bahir, M. and Surasinghe, T. (2005) A conservation assessment of the Sri Lankan agamidae (Reptilia: Sauria). The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 12: 407 - 412. Available at:
    http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg/rbz/biblio/s12/s12rbz407-412.pdf
  2. SriLankaReptile.com (November, 2006)
    http://www.pdn.ac.lk/socs/zaup/reptiles/agamidae.html
  3. The University of Edinburgh: Project Knuckles 2005 [Phase II] Preliminary Report (November, 2006)
    http://www.expeditions.ed.ac.uk/Reports%202005/knucklesreport.pdf
  4. Project Knuckles (November, 2006)
    http://www.glenkindiesteading.co.uk/hoona/Text%20Only.htm
  5. Animal Diversity Web (November, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agamidae.html
  6. JETWING Eco Holidays: In search of the Dwarf Lizard (November, 2006)
    http://www.jetwingeco.com/index.cfm?mid=7&id=69&sid=158&section=sectionsubpages
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Image credit

Cophotis ceylanica on branch  
Cophotis ceylanica on branch

© V. A. M. P. K. Samarawickrama

V.A.M.P.K.Samarawickrama
103A Bulawaththa
Gannoruwa
Peradeniya
Sri Lanka
Boigabeddomi@yahoo.com

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