Giant Girdled Lizard

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Giant girdled lizard
Cordylus giganteus.jpg
Cordylus giganteus
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Cordylidae
Genus: Cordylus
Species: C. giganteus
Binomial name
Cordylus giganteus
Smith, 1844

Smaug giganteus

The giant girdled lizard (Cordylus giganteus), also known as the sungazer, giant spiny-tailed lizard or giant zonure, is the largest species of girdled lizard. It is known as ouvolk in Afrikaans communities, mbedhla in Zulu and Patagaly or Pagataly in Sotho. Unlike the other rock-dwelling members of Cordylidae, giant girdled lizards live in self-excavated burrows in the silty soil of the Themeda grassland in South Africa. The alternative name sungazer comes from their habit of sitting at their burrow entrances and facing the sun while thermoregulating. They are insectivores, but occasionally will eat small vertebrates. They reproduce every two to three years, and only produce one or two offspring per breeding cycle. The decline in numbers is a result of habitat destruction (conversion of the grassland to farmland) and illegal collecting for the pet and traditional medicine trade.

The giant girdled lizard is protected by spiny dorsal scales and four large occipital spines along the back of its head. The tail is armed by whorls of large spines and is flicked powerfully at predators that pursue it into a burrow. Adults are 150 to 180 mm (5.9 to 7.1 in) from the snout to the vent. The back is yellow to dark brown and the sides are yellow. Males can be identified by the presence of enlarged scales called generation glands on the forelegs.

Giant girdled lizards do not breed readily in captivity, and only one record exists for a successful breeding attempt outside of South Africa. Wild caught giant girdled lizards are therefore imported from South Africa to the USA, Europe and Japan, where they command a very high price. Most of these animals are smuggled out of the country and are not accompanied by the required CITES permits to keep them. Cordylus tropidosternum and Cordylus jonesii are occasionally marketed as “dwarf sungazers.”



  • Branch, B., 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa: Ralph Curtis Books Publishing, Sanibel Island, Florida, 399 p.
  • Fitzsimons, V. F., 1943. The Lizards of South Africa: Transvaal Museum Memoir, Pretoria.