Bushveld Lizard Heliobolus lugubris
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
© Super Mongoose
Marakele National ParkSize
16-20 cm; max. 22 cm. Description
Adult H. lugubris are pale red and buff in color, matching Kalahari sands. Juveniles have pitch black bodies with white spots, and a reddish tail.
Scalation: small elongate temporal borders each parietal. Crescent-shaped tympanic scale above ear opening. Lower eyelids scaly. Subocular borders the lip. Dorsal scales: small and keeled at midbody, 63-71 transverse rows at midbody. Collar: present. Ventral scales: 6 longitudinal rows. Other: 12-18 femoral pores beneath each thigh, 2-3 keels on scales beneath toes.
Coloration: Adults are overall grey- to red-brown with indistinct black transverse bars and three light dorsal longitudinal stripes: the middle one divides on the neck and extends onto the tail. Tail is usually pale brown and there are pale spots on the legs. Ventral surfaces are white.
Hatchlings are jet black, with broken yellow-white dorsal and lateral stripes and a sand-coloured tail: this, and their jerky and stiff way of movement, makes them effective mimics of a local beetle which can squirt pungent acidic fluid at predators, and thus grants them some protection.Geographic Distribution
From Lowveld and SE Zimbabwe, through Botswana, Northern Cape and central Namibia to southern Angola.Habitat
Arid and mesic savannah. They are fairly common on sandy, sparsely vegetated plains, where they dart from bush to bush.Behaviour
In the Kalahari and the Namib desert, juvenile Heliobolus lugubris
employ an interesting anti-predator tactic involving deception known as Batesian mimicry . These defenseless small lizards mimic noxious "Oogpister" beetles (Carabidae: Anthia/Thermophilum spp.), which emit pungent acids, aldehydes, and other chemicals when disturbed.
Whereas adults walk with a normal tetrapod lizard gait, with their backs undulating from side to side, juveniles walk stiff-legged, with backs arched vertically holding their reddish tails flat against the ground (this makes the tail difficult to detect). When pursued, young H. lugubris
abandon their "beetle walk" and dart rapidly for cover, using normal lizard locomotion. As they reach a size of about 45-50 mm from snout to vent (the size of the largest oogpister beetles), these lizards "metamorphose" into the cryptic adult coloration and permanently abandon the stilt walk. The frequency of broken and regenerated tails is lower in juvenile H. lugubris
than among closely related lacertids in the same habitats exposed to common predators, suggesting that this beetle mimicry does reduce predatory attacksDiet
It is insectivorous and forages widely for its food, with termites being especially favoured.Reproduction
The female lays 4-6 eggs in a chamber dug in loose sand. Eggs hatch December-May.