The armadillo girdled lizard, scientifically known as Ouroborus cataphractus, is a captivating reptile commonly referred to as the armadillo spiny-tailed lizard or the golden-armadillo lizard. This species belongs to the Cordylidae family and is native to the desert regions along South Africa’s western coastline. In 2011, it was reclassified into its own genus based on molecular research, having previously been categorized under Cordylus.
The armadillo girdled lizard can display a range of colorations from light brown to dark brown. Its underside features a yellow hue with a distinctive blackish pattern, particularly beneath the chin. These lizards typically measure between 7.5 to 9 centimeters (3.0 to 3.5 inches) in snout-vent length, with some individuals reaching a maximum size of 20 centimeters (8 inches) SVL.
Distribution and Habitat
Endemic to the Succulent Karoo biome in South Africa’s Northern and Western Cape provinces, O. cataphractus thrives in regions spanning from the southern Richtersveld to the Piketberg Mountains and the southern Tankwa Karoo. It prefers rocky outcrops on mountain slopes, particularly those with a sandstone substrate.
Diet: The armadillo girdled lizard primarily sustains itself on small invertebrates, including insects and spiders, occasionally incorporating plant material into its diet. When in captivity, it commonly consumes crickets. In its natural habitat, termites, particularly Microhodotermes viator and Hodotermes mossambicus, constitute its primary prey. Larger social groups of these lizards tend to consume more termites than smaller groups.
Behavior: This species is diurnal, seeking refuge in rock crevices and cracks during the night. Armadillo girdled lizards form social groups, often comprising 30 to 60 individuals of varying ages, though some groups may be smaller. Males are territorial, guarding their territory and mating with resident females.
One of the most striking features of the armadillo girdled lizard is its unique antipredator adaptation. When threatened, it curls into a protective ball and takes its tail into its mouth. This defensive posture, reminiscent of the mythical ouroboros and the mammalian armadillo, shields it from predators due to the presence of thick, square scales along its back and spines on its tail.
Unlike most lizards, female armadillo girdled lizards give birth to one or two live young, rather than laying eggs. Some females even provide nourishment to their offspring, an uncommon behavior among lizards. These females typically reproduce once a year, with occasional breaks in between.
The IUCN classifies Ouroborus cataphractus as near threatened. The cessation of collection for the pet trade, now illegal, has alleviated some population pressures. However, the species remains vulnerable to fluctuations in its primary food source, termites, which can be influenced by climatic events like changes in rainfall patterns. Additionally, invasive alien plant species and inadequate fire management practices can impact its habitat.