Have you ever seen a lizard with an Elizabethan collar around its neck? If not, let me introduce you to the frilled lizard – an enchanting reptile that is not only mesmerizing to look at but also fascinating to learn about. Here are some intriguing frilled lizard facts that will blow your mind.
1. They have a frill neck
The frilled lizard goes by several common names such as frilled-necked lizard, frilled agama, or frilled dragon. Similar to the bearded dragon, this scaled lizard is a member of the Agamidae family and is the second-largest species within this group. It typically weighs between 500-800g and has a size of 2 – 3 feet (60 – 90 cm) in length, with its long tail accounting for two-thirds of that length. The female is often smaller than the male.
The most distinctive feature of the frilled lizard is its large frill, resembling an Elizabethan ruff. This highlighted characteristic gives the species its common name. The neck frill is nothing more than a thin yet wide flap of skin that surrounds the throat. This frill stays on the animal’s shoulder but it can extend 8 – 12 inches (20 – 30 cm) across when completely raised.
The frill functions for multiple purposes such as warding off predators, marking territory, and attracting a partner.
Depending on the environment, the frilled-necked lizard will have different colors. The ones living in damper, more tropical settings are likely to have darker shades of brown and grey. On the other hand, those inhabiting a dry, clay-rich environment usually display a variety of orange, brown, and red colors. The neck frill has a lighter color than its body. It may display yellow, orange, and red patterns.
The frill-necked lizard’s body, including its frill, is patterned with darker dots and blotches blended in a mottled pattern to resemble tree bark. This adaptive coloration helps the lizard blend in with its surroundings, enabling it to camouflage itself more effectively.
The frilled-neck lizard can be found in Australia (Queensland and the Northern Territory), Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. These creatures are adaptable to various environments, but they require habitats that offer an abundance of trees and foliage for climbing and concealment. They prefer to live in forests, jungles, and woodlands.
Frilled lizards, like many other lizard species, are meat-eaters (carnivores). They mainly feed on insects such as harvest flies, cicadas, termites, beetles, bugs, and other insects in trees. Their favorite foods are moths, butterflies, and caterpillars. While insects make up the bulk of their diet, frill-necked lizards also occasionally eat spiders, small mammals, rodents such as mice, and even other lizards.
To get the food, these species will stay on tree branches. Once detecting the prey, they will swiftly go down, catch the prey, and climb back up in just a few seconds. Their exceptional eyesight enables them to focus on their target.
Besides actively hunting for food, the Australian lizards with hoods also apply the passive technique. They use their excellent camouflage to blend in with their surroundings and patiently wait for unsuspecting prey to come to them.
4. They have creative ways to defend themselves
Frilled lizards are preyed upon by many predators, such as birds of prey, quolls, monitor lizards, dingoes, raptors, large pythons, large snakes, owls, and foxes. The other threats to these species are feral cats or cane toads.
To protect themselves, these frill-necked lizards have developed various strategies. One of them is to use their camouflage to make them almost indistinguishable from the ground or branches. All they have to do is to fold their frills against their bodies and stay immobile to avoid detection.
If getting caught, these reptiles with flared necks make every effort to look aggressive. They open their mouths, display their frill, and begin to hiss, causing the lizard to appear almost twice its size. This strategy often succeeds in scaring off potential predators, despite the fact that frilled lizards are harmless. After completing their threat display, frilled lizards frequently retreat to safety by climbing a tree.
If the performance does not work, the frilled lizard will start running upright on its hind legs. This scene is quite funny to watch. However, this position helps the species run faster, reaching a speed of up to 30 mph (48 kph). This is why they are usually called bicycle lizards.
According to scientists, these lizards with frills around their necks can do this because the center of gravity is very low in their bodies. As a result, their front legs lift off the ground when they speed up. This adaption allows them to escape from predators faster than if they moved on all fours.
5. They are arboreal animals
Frilled lizards spend most of their time in trees alone. Because of its remarkable camouflage, you can hardly see them, expect except for when they descend to the ground to look for food or after rainfall.
These species are most active during the day, seeking food, and basking in the sun to control their body temperature. Their frill can also be enlarged to give more surface area for sun absorption.
Frill-necked lizards enjoy humid climates and prefer the wet season over the dry season. This preference for moisture explains their heightened activity during the wet season. Conversely, they undergo a period of decreased activity in the dry season (a kind of soft hibernation.) During this time, they just stay on top of the trees and refrain from eating. These species can swim in the water.
6. The temperature decides their gender
The mating season of frilled lizards occurs in the wet season, typically from September to October. During this time, the male fiercely defends their territories and display aggressive behavior towards other males.
In their efforts to attract a mate, the male shows his frill. If the female finds it attractive, she will bob her head to let him know. After mating, the female excavates a nest in sandy soil, with a depth of approximately 10-20cm (4-7.9in), and make sure that it receives adequate sunlight.
She’ll then lay a clutch of 4 to 14 eggs into her nest between November and February. In some cases, the clutch can contain as many as 23 eggs. If food is abundant during the breeding season, the female may produce 2 egg clutches. She’ll incubate those eggs for about 70 days. Once hatched, the hatchlings are immediately independent.
The gender of frilled lizard offspring is determined by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated.
Incubating eggs at around 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) results in a higher likelihood of female offspring, while temperatures above 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) are more likely to produce an equal proportion of male and female offspring.
The lizards with fanned necks reach sexual maturity at the age of 1.5 years. In the wild, they have a lifespan of approximately 10 years, while those in captivity may live up to 20 years.
7. They are endangered
Although their conservation status is Least Concern, the frill-necked lizard populations may be endangered by climate change. Higher temperature means more females. This could disrupt their gender balance due to their breeding behavior.
Moreover, human activities have also impacted their population. These creatures are hunted for the pet trade and their habitat is destroyed.