Spiny agama (Agama spinosa)

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Spiny agama
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The spiny agama is a medium-sized lizard with rows of spines on its head and neck.
  • Male spiny agamas typically have a reddish to orange head, whereas females have a blue head.
  • Like males of other Agama species, the male spiny agama uses its bright colours and behavioural displays to proclaim its territory and attract females.
  • Members of the genus Agama, including the spiny agama, are unusual in having teeth that are fused to their jaw bones.
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Spiny agama fact file

Spiny agama description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyAgamidae
GenusAgama (1)

The spiny agama (Agama spinosa) is a slender, medium-sized lizard with long limbs and a triangular-shaped head. This species has rows of spines next to its ears and along the sides of its neck, as well as a crest of longer spines running down the upper side of its neck. These are more defined in males (2) (3).

The colour patterns of the spiny agama vary according to age, sex and breeding condition. Adult males range from olive to blue, with a purple-red or orange head which typically becomes more brightly coloured in the breeding season. In contrast, females are typically yellowish in colour with irregular orange patches and a blue head. Juvenile spiny agamas are grey or brown, and often possess white spots (2). Interestingly, the body colour of the spiny agama changes according to the external temperature, appearing brightest at warmer temperatures (4).

An unusual feature of the members of the genus Agama, which includes the spiny agama, is that their teeth are fused to the jaw bones, a feature which these reptiles share with chameleons (5).

Also known as
Egyptian spiny agama, Gray’s agama, Lanza’s spiny agama.
Synonyms
Agama agama spinosa, Agama colonorum.
Size
Snout-vent length: up to 12.6 cm (2)
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Spiny agama biology

Males of this genus of lizards use their bright colours and head bobbing to proclaim their territory, taking residence on exposed perches (5). From these vantage points, the males typically use behavioural displays involving spasmodic push-up actions to attract females. A receptive female usually responds to a displaying male by nodding her head and, on his approach, arches her back to facilitate his grasp (5) (6).

Receptive female Agama lizards are characterised by pronounced, swollen abdomens as a result of egg production. During mating, the male holds the female’s body off the ground using one front foot and one hind leg, before inserting one of two penises into her cloaca for fertilisation. Although little specific information is available on the breeding behaviour of the spiny agama, clutch sizes in the genus tend to be relatively small (5). Once spiny agamas have dispersed from the site in which they were born, individuals tend to remain in their new home range for the remainder of their lives (7).

Male colouration determines social rank within the spiny agama’s small social groups. The bright head colour of breeding males is generally only acquired by dominant individuals. Subordinate males tend to occupy the outer regions of established territories, while dominant males are more frequently found at the centre. Dominant males use aggressive behaviour to defend their territory, but only direct aggression towards other males displaying bright colours (6).

The spiny agama is active during the daytime and feeds mainly on insects, such as ants. However, it also eats some vegetation and soft fruits of Capparis species (2) (5). Like other lizards of this genus, the spiny agama is largely a sit-and-wait predator, relying on its eyesight to locate and attack insect prey (8).

Internal temperature regulation is possible in lizards in the Agamidae family. By metabolically producing and distributing heat around the body, they are able to reach their optimum body temperature more quickly (7).

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Spiny agama range

The spiny agama occurs in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Somalia (1) (2). In Egypt, this species occurs mainly in the Eastern Desert high mountains, overlooking the Red Sea coast. The spiny agama does not venture far inland and is thought to be absent in areas near the River Nile (2).

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Spiny agama habitat

The spiny agama inhabits rocky areas on mountains or hills, often dwelling on the slopes of valleys or on larger stones littering dry river beds (2). It tends to prefer dry river beds that are vegetated, for example with Acacia scrub. This species is able to tolerate quite arid conditions (1).

In northern Egypt, the spiny agama appears to be confined to higher elevations, whereas in the south it is found in the lowlands (2).

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Spiny agama status

The spiny agama is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Spiny agama threats

The spiny agama is a widespread species and is not believed to be facing any major threats at present (1). However, it may face some potential threats at a local level. For example, the spiny agama is collected for the pet trade, although the extent to which this occurs is unknown (2).

Land development could also threaten this species as, although relatively widespread, its distribution is quite localised. For example, proposed plans to build a wind farm in the Egyptian desert could cause habitat loss for the spiny agama should plans for construction proceed (2) (9). Quarrying could also pose a potential threat to the spiny agama in Egypt, and this is likely to become more of a problem for the species in the future (1).

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Spiny agama conservation

There are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for the spiny agama, although it is likely to occur in some protected areas. More research needs to be undertaken to assess the impact of the pet trade on this species and its population size (1).

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Find out more

Find out more about the spiny agama and other reptiles:

More information on reptile conservation:

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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

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Cloaca
A common cavity into which the reproductive, digestive and urinary systems open in birds, reptiles, amphibians, most fish and some primitive mammals.
Fertilisation
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Home range
The area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
Metabolically
Involving metabolism, the chemical reactions that occur within a living organism to maintain life.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  3. Arnold, E.N., Burton, J.A. and Ovenden, D. (1978) A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  4. Egypt’s Biodiversity: Reptiles - Spiny agama (March, 2011)
    http://www.biomapegypt.org/biodiversity/WildLife/Reptiles_05.html#pic
  5. Zug, G.R. (1993) Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, California.
  6. Gans, C. and Crews, D. (Eds.) (1992) Hormones, Brain and Behavior. Biology of the Reptilia. Volume 18, Physiology E. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  7. Porter, K.R. (1972) Herpetology. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia.
  8. Huey, R.B., Pianka, E.R. and Schoener, T.W. (1983) Lizard Ecology: Studies of a Model Organism. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  9. Ministry of Electricity and Energy New and Renewable Energy Authority, Arab Republic of Egypt (2008) Feasibility Study for a Large Wind Farm at Gulf of El Zayt. Ministry of Electricity and Energy New and Renewable Energy Authority, Arab Republic of Egypt. Available at:
    http://www.eib.org/attachments/pipeline/20070089_eia_annex1_en.pdf
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