© AMNH / Denis Finnin
Heavy-duty body armor protects the Girdled Lizard as it tracks its insect prey.
Two layers of armor protect this lizard: its spiny scales and the bony plates that support them called osteoderms (OST-ee-oh-derms). Osteoderms are embedded in the skin in regular rows. Animals with osteoderms--alligators, crocodiles and many lizards--have an added layer of protection. The bony support layer is very hard and may do more to prevent injury than ordinary scales would.
When this spiky tail blocks the opening of the lizard's hideaway, predators may look for easier prey. If not, the Girdled Lizard may just detach its own tail, satisfying the predator and saving itself.
A threatened Girdled Lizard will wedge itself into a small opening for protection and then inflate its lungs to make the fit even tighter.
Meet the Family
Africa south of the Sahara is home to this small family, Cordylidae, which includes perhaps 54 species in all. Most-but not all-have keeled, or ridged, scales, and many live in large social groups.
NAME: Tropical Girdled Lizard; Cordylus tropidosternum
SIZE: 9 centimeters (4 inches)
RANGE: East Africa
DIET: Moths, spiders, insects