Agama (lizard)

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Common Agama (Agama agama) male (7609816076).jpg
Red-headed rock agama (Agama agama), Cameroon
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Agamidae
Subfamily: Agaminae
Genus: Agama
Daudin, 1802
Type species
Lacerta agama
Linnaeus, 1758

See text

Agama (="unmarried") is both the genus name of a group of small, long-tailed, insectivorous Old World lizards as well as a common name for these lizards. The genus Agama is composed of at least 37 species found across Africa, where they are the most common lizard.[citation needed] They can be found in many sizes, from 12.5 to 30 cm (5 in. to 1 ft.) in length and a wide variety of colours. One of the best known species is Agama agama, widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. For Eurasian agamaids, see the genus Laudakia.

Agamas originally lived in forest and bush across Africa, but have since adapted to live in villages and compounds where their habitat has been cleared. They live inside the thatch of huts and other small spaces, emerging only to feed. If caught out in the open, agamas are able to run quickly on their hind legs to reach shelter. The desert agama can still be found in the dry areas of North Africa. Despite their name, they avoid bare sand.[1]

Agamas are active during the day and are often found scampering around to snatch up their favorite foods. They can tolerate greater temperatures than most reptiles, but in the afternoon when temperatures reach around 38 °C (100 °F) they will settle into the shade and wait for it to cool. Frequent fighting breaks out between males; such fighting involves a lot of bobbing and weaving in an attempt to scare the opponent. If it comes to blows, they lash out with their tails and threaten each other with open jaws. Many older males have broken tails as a result of such fights. Females may sometimes chase and fight one another, while hatchlings mimic the adults in preparation for their future.[1]

Agamas are mainly insectivores. Their incisor-like front teeth are designed for quick cutting and chewing of their prey. They may also eat grass, berries, seeds and even the eggs of smaller lizards.

Most agamas are polygamous. Males may hold six or more females in their territory for breeding. During courtship, the male bobs his head to impress the female. Occasionally, females initiate courtship by offering their hindquarters to the male and then running until he is able to catch up. The breeding season is typically March–May with eggs being laid in June–September during the season after the rains. Eggs are laid in clutches of up to 12.[1]

Etymology and taxonomy[edit]

The generic name, Agama, comes from the Latin word agama (feminine form of agamus), which directly translates to "unmarried." The word was originally used as a specific name by Carolus Linnaeus when he named a new species of lizard, Lacerta agama (now Agama agama), but the author did not provide reasoning behind the unmarried moniker [2] Daudin later created the new genus, Agama, to incorporate many other Old World lizards.[2]


Listed alphabetically.[3]

Kenyan rock agama (Agama lionotus), male on a wall in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
Mwanza flat-headed rock agama (Agama mwanzae), male, Serengeti, Tanzania

Nota bene: A binomial authority in parentheses indicates that the species was originally described in a genus other than Agama.


  1. ^ a b c Burton, Maurice; Burton, Robert (1974). The Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia. 1. New York, N.Y.: Funk and Wagnalls. OCLC 20316938. 
  2. ^ a b Cuvier, Georges; Griffith, Edward; Pidgeon, Edward (1831). The Class Reptilia. Vol IX. London: Henry Bayliss.
  3. ^ "Agama ". The Reptile Database. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Agama hartmanni, p. 117).

Further reading[edit]

  • Daudin FM (1802). Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière des Reptiles; Ouvrage faisant suite à l'Histoire Naturelle générale et particulière, composée par Leclerc de Buffon; et rédigée par C.S. Sonnini, membre de plusieurs sociétés savantes. Tome troisième [Volume 3]. Paris: F. Dufart. 452 pp. (Agama, new genus, p. 333). (in French).
  • Manthey, Ulrich; Schuster, Norbert (1996). Agamid Lizards. U.S.A.: T.F.H Publications Inc. 189 pp. ISBN 978-0793801282.
  • Spawls, Stephen; Howell, Kim M.; Drewes, Robert C. (2006). Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691128849.

External links[edit]