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