Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pygmy lizard (Cophotis ceylanica)


This lizard is one of the slowest moving lizards on the island. You can only find it in Sri Lanka, and then only in a few areas including the cloud forests in Horton Plains, Hakgala and the Knuckles Mountain range. But if you are lucky enough to see one, you can easily identify it as a pygmy lizard by its irregular-shaped body scales and curled, prehensile tail. (Prehensile means it is able to take hold of objects like branches).

Pygmy lizards belong to a family of reptiles called Agamidae (commonly called dragons or dragon lizards). But unlike other Agamids these little fellows don't lay eggs. Instead they hatch the eggs within their body and give birth to live young. Scientists think this is because the lizards have adapted to living in cold montane environments. In these places the night air can get very cool, and if the eggs get chilled overnight they will not be able to hatch.

The mystery of the disappearing lizards

During the mid 1990s hundreds of pygmy lizards died daily in Nuwara Eliya Hakgala – pushing the once high population nearly into extinction. It is also suspected a similar population crash happened in the Knuckles Mountains, and there were great fears the species was extinct in that area until a few were found in 2004/5 on the Project Knuckles research expeditions. The precise causes remain a mystery, although it is suspected that these deaths were the result of climatic changes and deforestation.

What can you do?

The cloud forests one of the most threatened ecosystems in Sri Lanka – they have been cut down to make space for growing the vegetables we eat every day. So why not start a home garden and grow your own vegetables – and help protect the endangered pygmy lizard’s habitat.


» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species


Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

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