Meet the Armadillo: the closest thing we have to a real dragon

With its unique defense mechanism and spiky exterior, the armadillo is perhaps the world’s most formidable reptile. Hence, these lizards are interesting in more ways than one and very popular among pet keepers. However, there is a lot we don’t know about this amazing creature. So, if you are someone who wants to know more about this little dragon, here are some interesting facts about the armadillo lizard.

Native to South Africa, this reptile is a realistic little dragon that curls up like an armadillo.

Meet the Armadillo: the closest thing we have to a real dragon
Ouroborus cataphractus.

An armadillo, scientifically named Ouroborus cataphractus, is the closest you’ll ever meet a baby dragon. These adorable creatures are found in the desert regions along the western coast of South Africa. There, you may spot them inhabiting rocky outcrops and mountain slopes or bathing in the warm sun.

The impressively built armadillo lizards can be easily recognized by their light brown to dark brown and yellow coloration which often bears a blackish pattern, especially under its chin. As if that didn’t really set them apart, they are also equipped with an extraordinary defense mechanism.

Meet the Armadillo: the closest thing we have to a real dragon
Image credits: Handré Basson/Wikipedia

These lizards, like their animal namesake, curl up into a ball when they realize the danger around them. Then they bite off the ends of their tails and form perfect little balls of sturdy scales and spikes. This way, they can ensure that their softer liners are kept safe from pesky predators like vipers, mongooses, and larger birds.

Although creepers are generally docile, males of this species exhibit territorial behavior.

Meet the Armadillo: the closest thing we have to a real dragon
Image credits: u/jzHoosier/Reddit

If you are someone who prefers to stay at least a mile away from the various scary crawlies in the world, the armadillo lizard might seem dangerous to you. However, they are generally known to have a docile nature. In the wild, these lizards will often try to run away when other creatures approach them. This nature, along with the fact that they are easy to care for and unique in appearance, have made them a popular choice among novice pet owners.

Interestingly, despite their placid nature, the males of this species can be somewhat territorial. In fact, there can be some competition and aggression even between male members of the same group. But this aggression is usually less than it appears to males from the outside.

Despite this behaviour, there is evidence indicating a high level of movement between groups of males, juveniles and females.

Unfortunately, their uniqueness has also made them vulnerable to illegal traffic

Meet the Armadillo: the closest thing we have to a real dragon
Armadillo lizard

As a result, humans have become one of the biggest threats to the armadillo lizard. Their slow-moving nature and tendency to stay in groups often makes them an easy target for illegal collectors. This is a big reason why, until the 1990s, Ouroborus cataphractus was classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN.

Fortunately, the export of wild-caught armadillo lizards is illegal today. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded them to “least concern”. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely out of danger. Although their export is prohibited, many traffickers still attempt to illegally capture them.

For example, in 2017, a man who had traveled to South Africa from Japan was arrested after being found with 48 armadillo lizards. A month later, another Japanese man was arrested for the same crime, showing how traffickers can be a huge threat to the species.

Here are some other facts about the armadillo lizard:

1 Despite their names and other similarities, the armadillo lizard is unrelated to the armadillo.

Sure, they share a name and certain features, but armadillo lizards and armadillos are not related to each other. The armadillo is a reptile that belongs to the Cordelidae family. On the other hand, the armadillo is a New World, placental mammal.

2 The armadillo is one of the few reptiles that does not lay eggs.

Usually, females of this species give birth to a fairly large live young. They also tend to give birth only once a year, which sets them apart from most species of lizards.

3 They get their taxonomic name from the legendary Ouroboros symbol.

The Ouroboros symbol depicts a dragon or a snake eating its own tail and forming a circle. When an armadillo lizard displays its defense mechanism, it resembles this symbol, thus earning it its taxonomic name.

4 These lizards also exhibit sexual dimorphism with males and females having distinct features.

For example, male armadillo lizards generally grow larger than their female counterparts, which makes it possible to tell them apart.

5 This reptile feeds on small invertebrates and insects such as termites.

In the wild, the armadillo lizard commonly feeds on termites, particularly the subspecies Microhodotermes viator and Hodotermes mossambicus. However, eating plant matter is also not entirely out of the ordinary.

6 As a social reptile, this lizard tends to live in groups.

These groups consist of two to 60 individuals, with an average of six individuals. These groups also do not need to always consist of family units. Interestingly, permanent communal living of this species is said to be uncommon among lizards.

7 Armadillo lizards use their tails, tongues, and heads to communicate with each other.

As a result, they can be seen wagging their tails, bobbing their heads, or clicking their tongues. Some of these actions may aid reproduction while others, such as the click of the tongue, can be used as warning signs.

8 During the winter, armadillo lizards often reduce their consumption of termites.

This behavior is thought to reduce food competition between group members. It has also been observed that lizards in larger social groups tend to eat termites more than those in smaller groups.

9 Like most lizards, the armadillo can also drop its tail to escape from predators.

This phenomenon is called “independence”. However, unlike other lizards, the armadillo’s tail is an important part of its defense mechanism. As a result, they generally only drop their tails as a last resort.

10 When in defensive mode, these lizards can remain curled up for up to an hour.

The armadillo lizard, as we have seen, tends to curl up into a ball and bite its tail when threatened. This stance then reveals its spiky exterior, causing predators to quickly lose interest in it. When you set up its defenses this way, this lizard can stay swarmed for up to an hour.


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