Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)

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Western hooded scaly-foot in habitat

Top facts

  • Although it looks like a snake, the western hooded scaly-foot is in fact a type of lizard.
  • The western hooded scaly-foot lacks front legs, but has remnant hind legs in the form of scaly flaps.
  • In addition to insects and other arthropods, the western hooded scaly-foot is known to feed on scorpions.
  • When threatened, the western hooded scaly-foot rears up, flattens its neck and flicks its tongue so that it resembles a small venomous snake.
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Western hooded scaly-foot fact file

Western hooded scaly-foot description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSauria
FamilyPygopodidae
GenusPygopus (1)

The western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps) is an unusual snake-like lizard with an elongated body, no front limbs, and hind limbs which are reduced to small, scaly flaps (4) (5) (6) (7). Its tail is long and fragile (6), and may measure nearly twice the length of the body in the largest individuals (2). This species’ scales are smooth and slightly glossy (4).

The body of the western hooded scaly-foot is generally brown to reddish-brown or light tan (2) (4), and there are speckles of brown and black on the scales of the upperparts (2). There may also be reddish stripes along the body (5). The western hooded scaly-foot has a dark band across its head, passing through the eyes and onto the lips, as well as a dark smudge on the nostrils and a broad brown to black band across the neck (2) (4).

The underside of the western hooded scaly-foot’s body is creamy-white to silver and lacks any patterning, while the tail may be marked with dark brown, backward-pointing chevrons (2). This species easily sheds its tail if attacked by a predator (8), and if a new tail re-grows it may have a slightly different pattern to the rest of the body (5).

The female western hooded scaly-foot grows larger than the male (3). Juveniles are generally a sandy-yellow colour and have less distinct patterning on the body and tail, although they do have the dark, contrasting head pattern of the adult (2). The dark head pattern of this species may fade with age (7).

Like other members of the Pygopodidae family, the western hooded scaly-foot has a short, broad tongue with a slightly notched tip (6). This family of lizards is believed to be closely related to geckos, and like geckos they have a transparent ‘spectacle’ covering the eye, which they wipe clean with the tongue (6) (7) (8). The eyes have vertical, slit-like pupils (6) (7). Similarly to geckos, Pygopodidae species are capable of vocalising (6) (7), typically producing a high-pitched squeak (7).

Also known as
black-headed scaly-foot, hooded scaly-foot, western scaly-foot.
Synonyms
Cryptodelma nigriceps, Delma bailey, Pygopus baileyi, Pygopus territorianus.
Size
Maximum snout-vent length: 22.7 cm (2)
Male snout-vent length: 12.5 - 17.3 cm (3)
Female snout-vent length: 13.4 - 22.4 cm (3)
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Western hooded scaly-foot biology

A nocturnal species (4) (7) (8), the western hooded scaly-foot is an active predator and feeds on a range of insects and other arthropods, including spiders (3) (5). It has sometimes been reported to specialise in eating scorpions (5) (7) (8). Like other members of the Pygopodidae family, the western hooded scaly-foot moves by undulating the body and tail. The flap-like hind limbs are normally held tightly against the sides of the body, except when the lizard is climbing or negotiating difficult terrain (7).

As well as shedding its tail as a defence mechanism (8), the western hooded scaly-foot is thought to mimic venomous Australian snakes as a way of deterring predators. When threatened, this species rears its head up, flattens its neck, flickers its tongue, hisses and lunges forward in a snake-like manner (4) (7).

Like all Pygopodidae species, the western hooded scaly-foot lays clutches of two leathery-shelled eggs (3) (5) (6) (7) (8). Mating usually occurs in the spring, with the eggs being laid in the summer (3) (5) (7), and the eggs of Pygopodidae species usually hatch after 66 to 77 days (5) (7). A western hooded scaly-foot hatchling is thought to have a snout-vent length of about 6.6 centimetres (3).

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Western hooded scaly-foot range

The western hooded scaly-foot is widespread in central and western Australia (2), occurring in Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia (4). It is also found on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia (5).

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Western hooded scaly-foot habitat

The western hooded scaly-foot mainly inhabits sandy deserts (2) (4) with spinifex (Triodia) vegetation (4) (5). This terrestrial lizard often shelters in cracks and holes in the soil, or under debris (4).

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Western hooded scaly-foot status

The western hooded scaly-foot has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.

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Western hooded scaly-foot threats

There are no known threats to the western hooded scaly-foot at present.

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Western hooded scaly-foot conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be targeted at this widespread reptile. However, like all Pygopodidae species the western hooded scaly-foot is legally protected across Australia (7).

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Find out more

Find out more about the western hooded scaly-foot and about the reptiles of Barrow Island:

More information on conservation in Australia:

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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

Arthropods
A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Snout-vent length
A standard measurement of body length of reptiles. The measurement is from the tip of the nose (snout) to the anus (vent), and excludes the tail.
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References

  1. The Reptile Database (December, 2012)
    http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/search.php
  2. James, B.H., Donnellan, S.C. and Hutchinson, M.N. (2001) Taxonomic revision of the Australian lizard Pygopus nigriceps (Squamata: Gekkonoidea). Records of the South Australian Museum, 34(1): 37-52.
  3. Patchell, F.C. and Shine, R. (1986) Food habits and reproductive biology of the Australian legless lizards (Pygopodidae). Copeia, 1986(1): 30-39.
  4. Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  5. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
    http://www.chevronaustralia.com/environment/protectingenvironment/nature-books.aspx
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Shea, G.M. (1993) Family Pygopodidae. In: Glasby, C.J., Ross, G.J.B. and Beesley, P.L. (Eds.) Fauna of Australia. Volume 2A: Amphibia and Reptilia. AGPS Press, Canberra, Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/publications/fauna-of-australia/pubs/volume2a/28-fauna-2a-squamata-pygopodidae.pdf
  8. Pianka, E.R. and Vitt, L.J. (2003) Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity. University of California Press, Berkeley.
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Image credit

Western hooded scaly-foot in habitat  
Western hooded scaly-foot in habitat

© Stephen Zozaya

Stephen Zozaya
Townsville,
Australia
Tel: 0449826535
euprepiosaurus@gmail.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/euprepiosaur/

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