Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A dragon by any other name

My monsoon birding tour participant, Phillip Johnson has bagged the outrageously beautiful Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise in West Papua as his 5,000th lifer. I would like to congratulate him on this amazing achievement! He should be feeling very happy to have reached this memorable milestone, seeing such a crippler.

Wouldn’t it be nice to read about his birding adventures in a book one day? I think he should start chipping in, while chasing after the remaining half of the birds of the world. And if he does so, I hope he will not ignore all those NFFs! (catch all category that Phil lumps non birdie subjects in, standing for No #@*!ing Feathers). Phil is a teacher and a terrific storyteller. I am sure such a book filled with his anecdotes will prove interesting reading for many of us.

Last week, I stumbled upon a few NFFs myself on two trips to two rain forests. Special among them were four Hump-nosed Lizards. This is a scarce reptile found in moist rain forests in Sri Lanka, distributed up to altitudes of 1,650m. I don’t know about you, but my heart beats faster whenever I stumble upon one of these amazing reptiles. May be it’s because it reminds me of those ancient reptiles, famously celebrated. Some of those first feathered reptiles evolved to become the earliest birds. May be it is due to that. I wonder what Phil will do if he accidently spots such a feathered reptile now. Surely he cannot ignore it as another NFF?

Coming back to reality, the last of those four individuals that I found was a mature male. It was the most strikingly coloured of the four, the reason why I have promoted it to the very top. The gular pouch which it uses for displays when threatened and courting to pose an apparent increase in size, is well developed in both sexes but is more pronounced in the males. When threatened it also opens the mouth to display its red interiors as shown here, which to me appears like a fiery mouth of a mythical dragon.

Hump-nosed Lizard

There are 18 species of lizards belonging to the family Agamidae (for which reason they are commonly termed as 'Agamid lizards') in Sri Lanka out of which a whopping 15 are endemic. The Hump-nosed Lizard is one of the earliest animals to be described from Sri Lanka, named in 1758 by none other than the farther of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. Its present scientific name is Lyriocephalus scutatus. This generic name translates to 'Lyre-shaped head/face', which can be seen well in the first image. It earns its most often used vernacular from the globular knob of the snout in the adult, which is absent in the juveniles. Lyriocephalus is a monotypic genus, which means it contains only a single species, which in this case, is endemic to Sri Lanka.

My reptilian brain says that this species should be called as "Lyre-faced Dragon" as opposed to its rather lame sounding popular name used at present. Having said that, my primate brain says that it is best left unchanged as ‘dragon’ is likely to attract too much unwanted attention detrimental to its well-being.

Do you have different parts of your brain talking to you like this?

This immature was found close to the above individual and was the 3rd in the order seen by me. This lizard is capable of changing its colour quite remarkably and when I first found it in the evening before (when I carried no camera to be a better bird watcher) it was coloured similar to the green and yellow adult above.

Hump-nosed Lizard immature

I got the above photograph after returning to its site in the following morning. It was then that the above adult caught the eye.

Hump-nosed Lizard is an iconic species in Sri Lankan herpetology, with the country's leading herp. journal being named after its genus.

Here’s the second individual found – a record shot. It first appeared like a stump coming out of that tree. This one has almost completely shed its old skin, and the bits that remain attached it is lower body gives it a disguise as lichen patches of a tree.

And lastly, here’s the very first Hump-nosed Lizard that I stumbled upon during last week. It was crossing the road at Gilimale. I hurriedly escorted it to the forest before a bus came our way. That was not before I took this record shot, showing how it tries to hide from me, cleverly assuming the tones of the tarred road. Not bad for a reptilian brain, eh?

Hump-nosed Lizard

Hump-nosed Lizard is the only Lizard species that I have seen in a dream. In that, I found it in my home garden.

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In search of a Drongo

Israel chasing targets in Sri Lanka

17 comments:

Robby said...

Awesome lizards. That first one looks too colorful to be real.
Robby

Pat - Arkansas said...

Fascinating information on the hump-nosed lizard, Amila, and an absolutely stunning first photo!

rainfield61 said...

The first one with a deep black eye looks so good. I love the eye contact.

Java Jones said...

Cool shots Amila - as usual! Hope the owl hunt went well.

One section of the brain has been taken over by JJ, so the conversations are quite frequent!!

Beej said...

Gorgeous! Is there a good book in print about the Reptiles of Sri Lanka?

Kirigalpoththa said...

That green dragon is a beauty!

Gallicissa said...

Hi Robby,
I knew you would like this!
The first one was a very showy male.

Dear reptile lovers,
Pay a visit to Robby's blog. You will not be dissapointed.

Hi Pat,
Thank you!
Glad you like the first shot. It is a crop of the pic showing the full lizard.

Hi rainfield,
Thank you! Yes, they have amazing eyes. The eyes of the immature are more appealing for my tastes.

Hi Java,
Thank you! Owling it was good - saw 4 night birds (3 owls & frogmouth) and sound recorded the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl quite well.

Yes, I know what you mean about conversations!

Hi Beej,
Thanks!

Yes, we have a good book for reptiles.

"A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Sri Lanka" by Indraneil Das and Anslem de Silva"

There's a great one for snakes by Ruchira Somaweera, but it is written in Sinhala so will be of limited value for you. I think he will do it in English...probably after getting his PhD.

A visit to your blog is long overdue and it is one of the things to do tomorrow.

Hi K,
I hope you will stumble upon one during your hikes. It really is a beautiful dragon.

Glennis said...

Fantastic unusual lizards, the big green ones are a bit frightening looking. Wonder if they bite?

Sunita said...

That first photo is superb! What a colourful creature. Just goes to show that lizards have an artistic flair too, I suppose.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Glennis,
Thanks. Yes, this is known to give a powerful bite, if you try to catch it and make a mess of it! If you do not disturb it like that, it is pretty harmless and it will not take any interest in you. It is about 300mm in total length, so it likes smaller prey than human.

So, far I have not been bitten despite handling a few in my early youth (back when I was like Steve Erwin). I know a few who have been bitten. They've told me that this lizard often locks the jaws after biting....
and its sharp teeth can cause considerable bleeding.....

Hi Sunita,
Thanks!
Some of the lizards in our part of the world are real beauties and this one is one fine example of it.

Harumi said...

Wow.. a very comprehensive post. Lizards are a species I admire for their innate talent in camouflaging.. and I wonder if their eyes are similar to ours.. cuz they can recreate the pigments of their background with high precision.

Thanks for sharing all this knowledge!

Harumi said...

PS: Awesome pics, and I really like the 1st one which has vibrant colors.. and that lizard too looks very majestic.. like a king of lizards. =D

S.C.E. said...

Like I said on flickr that is a cool shot and a cool name too.......

Kirigalpoththa said...

Sure, I'd love to see one. :)

Kathiesbirds said...

gallicissa, I like your name for it better and I love that first shot. It is worthy of Nat-Geo!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Amila: You certainly have beautifully colored lizards.

oldcrow61 said...

Beautiful lizards. Only wish we had them here.

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