Sinai Agama

A common critter to come across in the wadis, the Sinai Agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus) is known in Arabic as qadi sina’, or the “judge of Sinai”, due to a stance they take – raising themselves high up on their limbs and tilting their head.

Males take this stance when they sit in prominent look-out locations, defending their territory. Sinai Agamas also raise themselves up to avoid the extreme heat of the rocks. Notice that the toes are also not in full contact with the hot ground.

Sinai Agamas have triangular-shaped heads with large ear openings in line with the mouth. They are slender lizards, their body up to 10 cm in length, with long, thin limbs. Characteristic of this species, their third hind toe is longer than the fourth.

Their color varies greatly between the sexes and depending on the breeding season, during which time the head, throat, and neck of the males become a bright blue and females display several red-brick bands on their backs.

Sinai Agamas live in dry, rocky mountainous and hilly areas. They are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, and active in the hottest part of the day. You can often find them basking in the sun atop boulders, cliffs, and piles of stones. If you’re quiet and don’t make any sudden movements, I’ve found the agamas will stay put and let you admire them for a few minutes (which is one reason I have so many photos of these adorable lizards).

Maybe it’s because I spot them in cooler weather, when their metabolism is lower. Typically, apparently, when alarmed, the Sinai Agama will quickly run off. Unless the outside temperature is lower and they are incapable of sudden bursts of speed. Then their instinct it to stand their ground and attack their aggressors.

I came across a Sinai Agama in Wadi Beida once. He was a couple of meters ahead of me when I spotted him and stopped to take a photograph. He had noticed my presence and as I photographed him, his head turned more and more blue. He then turned and ran full speed at my feet, as if he was going to attack me. I didn’t move. Neither did he. After a moment or so, he turned around, headed back to the boulder he had come from, and went back to munching on ants as I continued to photograph him. It seemed he had accepted I was no threat to him and could carry on as usual.

The Sinai Agama that “attacked” me

Sinai Agamas feed on insects, mainly ants, and other arthropods, as well as plants. They are “sit-and-wait foragers” and agile climbers, darting off quickly to chase after insects when they spot them nearby.

Sinai Agamas are one of my favorite critters to encounter while wandering through wadis! What are yours?

References:

Aly, D. & Khalil, R. (2011). Wildlife in South Sinai. Cairo.Funded by the E.U. in cooperation with G.O.S.S.

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006). A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Wikipedia: Sinai agama

Egyptian Fan-toed Gecko

These little lizards have been showing their faces around my house and garden lately, so I’d thought we’d take a break from the buzzers and introduce the Egyptian Fan-toed Gecko!

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Also known as the Common Fan-footed Gecko, Ptyodactylus hasselquistii is reported to be “the most abundant of all lizards inhabiting the lowland wadis of South Sinai.” You’ve probably seen them around. They are easily recognized by their flared or fan-shaped toes.

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Ptyodactylus hasselquistii by Todd Pierson, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The gecko pictured above was hanging out on my ceiling several weeks ago. Fan-toed Geckos are excellent climbers and can run easily across boulders, vertical rock walls, and cave roofs, as well as under ledges and overhangs. The geckos are able to do this thanks to thousands of microscopic toe scales – hooked, hair-like projections that allow the lizards to grip almost any surface.

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Called burs abu kaf in Arabic, these medium-sized geckos have flat, narrow heads, short and slender limbs, and long tails. Their color varies greatly depending on their surroundings, but they typically have dark bands across their back and tails. Fan-toed Geckos are generally nocturnal, coming out at night to forage on insects and arachnids, but they can also be active during the day, especially when the weather is colder and they can be found sunning themselves in a sheltered and safe location.

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Most lizards are usually mute, but not these geckos! They will make a chirping or clicking sound – tek, tek, tek – to communicate with other geckos. (In fact, during my afternoon nap today, I’m pretty sure I heard the one that my cat chased into the kitchen a few days ago. Poor thing is probably stressed and wanting to get back outside.)

Another fun fact: Geckos do not have eyelids. Instead their eyes are covered with a membrane that they must lick to clean and keep moist.

Want to know more? Head over to Mother Nature Network and read 12 Surprising Facts about Geckos.

Note: There is another species of Fan-toed Gecko in South Sinai – the Spotted Fan-toed Gecko (P. guttatus), which the guidebook says is the species found above 800 meters. There may also be several subspecies of Ptyodactylus hasselquistii, but this is still debated by scientists.

References:

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Common fan-footed gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii) on ARKive.org.

 

Bosc’s Fringe-toed Lizard

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Fringe-toed Lizards are Egypt’s most prominent reptiles and this species, the Bosc’s Fringe-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus), is the most common diurnal reptile in Sinai. Diurnal means “active during the day” and these guys start to venture out of their burrows at mid-morning, on the lookout for insects like flies, beetles, and grasshoppers, or perhaps some spiders, to munch on.

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There is a lot of variation when it comes to the number of scales, size, shape of head, pattern, and color of Bosc’s Fringe-toed Lizards. They can range in color from dark or olive grey to reddish brown and their scales are keeled, or ridged. There are five dark-colored stripes on their backs, but these fade with age. Males are generally larger than females and juveniles often have blue tails. During breeding season, the tails of females turn red.

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These fringe-toed lizards inhabit deserts and semi-deserts. The lateral fringes on their toes are a special adaptation to help them move across loose sand. When wandering through wadis, you will often see these lizards scuttle ahead of you when they hear you coming, often darting beneath the nearest plant. If you look closely, you can also spot their tracks in the soft sand.

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While on safari two years ago, I was packing up my tent one morning and was surprised to turn around and see mating fringe-toed lizards! I took dozens of photos of them and they did not seem to mind my presence. According to ARKive, “During courtship the male approaches the female with a bent neck, and then runs in semi-circles, whilst probing the female’s body with its tongue.” Probing? Looked more like biting to me, but I’m no lizard!

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If the female is receptive to these advances, she will lift her tail, allowing the male to make contact.

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Looking quite satisfied there, isn’t he? (Yes, I’m projecting.)

References:

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Bosc’s fringe-toed lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus) on ARKive.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Ornate Spiny-tailed Lizard

It was tough deciding which cool creature I should feature first, but recent discussions on Project Noah had me thinking about Dhabb lizards, so they won!

Ornate Spiny-tailed Lizards (Uromastyx ornata), also called Dhabb Lizards, are one of the larger animals you’ll come across in the wadis of South Sinai, their bodies growing up to 20 cm in length. Dhabb lizards like to bask in the hot desert sun. Males choose a highly visible position to declare their territory to other Dhabbs and to be on the lookout for intruders. If you’re on the lookout while hiking, you can sometimes spot these lizards ahead of you on the rocky sides of the wadis.

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If you proceed slowly and quietly, the lizards will sometimes let you approach and get a closer look.

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But often, when they hear you coming, the lizards scramble on their short, powerful legs into a rocky crevice and all you see is their very distinctive spiny tail.

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Male Dhabbs, like those pictured above, have blue heads and greenish blue backs with bands of black-edged yellow spots. The female and juvenile lizards sport a similar pattern but in reds, browns, and greys. Their coloration overall, however, can vary quite a bit depending on age, sex, and breeding condition.

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Ornate Dhabb lizards are active during the day and they are most active at midday during the hottest months of the year. They are herbivorous, munching mainly on the leaves, seeds, and flowers of desert plants. Occasionally, they might feed on invertebrates like insects and spiders.

A few years ago, while hiking one of our regular routes, my husband and I came across a Dhabb lizard feeding on the lush desert plants underneath an acacia tree. (There had been a bit of winter rain so the wadis were quite green with vegetation. And Dhabbs are strongly associated with acacias.) The Dhabb did not seem bothered by our presence and carried on eating as I sat on a nearby rock with my camera . What a treat it was to be able to watch!

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Ornate Spiny-tailed Lizards are listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, the Red List justifies this classification, recognizing that the lizard has gone locally extinct in parts of Egypt and Israel but continues to thrive as a species in Saudi Arabia. The lizards are heavily collected by animal traders despite the fact that exporting this species is illegal in Egypt. In Sinai, Dhabb lizards are also threatened by loss of habitat due to tourist activities, removal of acacia trees for charcoal making, quarrying, and general development.

So, please remember, when visiting Sinai’s spectacular deserts:

Take nothing but pictures,
Leave nothing but footprints,
Kill nothing but time.

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References:

Wilms, T. & Sindaco, R. 2012. Uromastyx ornata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012:e.T198538A2531743.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T198538A2531743.en. Downloaded on 08 May 2016.

Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Ornate spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx ornata)  on Arkive.org