Agama (lizard)

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Roughtail rock agama (Stellagama stellio brachydactyla).jpg
Roughtail rock agama (Stellagama stellio brachydactyla) in Jordan
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 (Suriname creole name for a lizard) 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]

In the 10th edition of Systema Naturae of 1758, [2] Linnaeus used the name Agama (pg. 288) as the species Lacerta Agama (with Agama originally capitalized to indicate a name in apposition rather than a Latin adjective, which he would have made lowercase). His own earlier description from 1749 [3] was derived from Seba, [4] who described and illustrated a number of lizards as Salamandra amphibia and Salamandra Americana, said to resemble in some ways a chameleon lizard and that supposedly came (in error) from "America." Seba did not use the term "agama", however. Linnaeus repeated Seba's error in stating that the lizards lived in the Americas ["habitat in America"], and he included other types of lizards shown and mentioned by Seba under his species name Agama.

Daudin [5] later created the new genus, Agama, to incorporate various African and Asian lizards, as well as species from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. He noted that the name agama was used by inhabitants of Guiana for a species that he included in the genus Agama.

The word "agama" [6] has been traced to West African Gbe languages as a name for the chameleon. The word was brought to Dutch Guiana (modern Suriname) by imported West African slaves and was then used in local creole languages for types of local lizards.[7] Linnaeus may have taken the name "agama" from some unidentified source in the mistaken belief that the reptiles came from the Americas as indicated by Seba.

The name "agama" has no connection to either Greek agamos "unmarried" (as a supposed Latin feminine agama) or to Greek agamai "wonder" as sometimes suggested.

Because of the confusion over the actual taxon that was the basis for the name Agama agama, Wagner, et al. (2009) [8] designated a neotype (ZFMK 15222), using a previously described specimen from Cameroon in the collection of the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn.


Listed alphabetically.[9]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Ground Agama (Agama aculeata) (6536937287).jpg Agama aculeata Merrem, 1820 ground agama Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Republic of South Africa, Mozambique, S Angola, Tanzania, Zambia, Swaziland
Agama africana (Hallowell, 1844) West African Rainbow Lizard Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone ?, Guinea
Red-headed rock agama (Agama agama) male.jpg Agama agama (Linnaeus, 1758) red-headed rock agama, common agama, rainbow agama enin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Madagascar
Lizard, Southern Namibia.jpg Agama anchietae Bocage, 1896 western rock agama, Anchieta's agama S Congo (Brazzaville), Angola, Namibia, Republic of South Africa (NW Cape), Botswana
Agama armata.jpg Agama armata W. Peters, 1855 tropical spiny agama South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), southwestern Kenya, and central Tanzania
Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra) male (32195027153).jpg Agama atra Daudin, 1802 southern rock agama Southern Africa
Agama bocourti Rochebrune, 1884 Bocourt's agama Senegal, Gambia
Agama boensis Monard, 1940 Somali Agama
Agama bottegi Boulenger, 1897 Somali agama Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Senegal
Agama boueti Chabanaud, 1917 Mali agama Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Senegal
Agama boulengeri Lataste, 1886 Boulenger's agama Mali, Mauritania
Agama caudospinosa Meek, 1910 Elmenteita rock agama Kenya
Agama cristata Mocquard, 1905 insular agama Guinea (Conakry), Mali
Agama doriae Boulenger, 1885 Nigeria agama Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Central African Republic to Eritrea and Ethiopia, N Cameroon, Sudan
Agama etoshae McLachlan, 1981 Etosha agama Namibia
Agama finchi Böhme, Wagner, Malonza, Lötters & Köhler, 2005 Finch's agama or Malaba rock agama W Kenya, Ethiopia
Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology - Agama gracilimembris.jpg Agama gracilimembris Chabanaud, 1918 Benin agama Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, probably in Chad (L. Chirio, pers. comm.), Mali, Guinea (Conakry), Burkina Faso
Agama hartmanni W. Peters, 1869 Hartmann's agama[10]
Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology - Agama hartmanni.jpg Agama hispida (Kaup, 1827) common spiny agama Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, S Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi
Agama impalearis.jpg Agama impalearis Boettger, 1874 Bibron's agama Morocco but it extends south to Western Sahara and east into eastern Algeria
Agama insularis Chabanaud, 1918 insular agama Rooma Island, Guinea
Agama kaimosae Loveridge, 1935 Kenya; Tanzania, United Republic of Congo
Agama kirkii.jpeg Agama kirkii Boulenger, 1885 Kirk's rock agama Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, E Botswana, SW Tanzania
Agama lanzai Wagner, Leaché, Mazuch & Böhme, 2013 Somalia
Agama lebretoni 2013 2.jpg Agama lebretoni Wagner, Barej & Schmitz, 2009 Lebreton's agama Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Fernando Poo (Bioko Island), Nigeria
Red-headed Rock Agama.jpg Agama lionotus Boulenger, 1896 Kenyan rock agama Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia
Agama lucyae Wagner & Bauer, 2011 N Ethiopia
Agama montana Barbour & Loveridge, 1928 montane (rock) agama Tanzania
Agama mossambica W. Peters, 1854 Mozambique agama Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, E Zimbabwe
Agama mucosoensis Hellmich, 1957 Mucoso agama Angola (Mucoso, Dondo, and Libolo/Luati)
AgamaLizard.jpg Agama mwanzae Loveridge, 1923 Mwanza flat-headed rock agama Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya
Agama parafricana S. Trape, Mediannikov & J. Trape, 2012 Benin; Ghana; Togo
Agama paragama Grandison, 1968 false agama N Nigeria, N Cameroon, Mali, Central African Republic, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, probably in W Chad (L. Chirio, pers. comm.), Niger
Agama persimilis Parker, 1942 Somali painted agama, similar agama Somalia, Ethiopia, E/NE Kenya
Agama picticauda (Peters, 1877) Gabon
Namibian Rock Agama (Agama planiceps) (8603173387).jpg Agama planiceps W. Peters, 1862 Namib rock agama Namibia (Damaraland, Kaokoveld)
Agama robecchii Boulenger, 1892 Robecchi's agama N Somalia, E Ethiopia
Agama rueppelli Vaillant, 1882 Rüppell's agama, arboreal agama Somalia, E Ethiopia, Kenya, S Sudan
Agama sankaranica Chabanaud, 1918 Senegal agama Guinea (Conakry), Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Mali, Cameroon (?), Senegal, Niger
Agama somalica Wagner, Leaché, Mazuch & Böhme, 2013 NE Somalia
Agama spinosa Gray, 1831 Lanza's spiny agama Egypt, Sudan, N Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, N Somalia
Agama sylvana M. MacDonald, 1981 Ghana, Benin, Cameroon
Agama tassiliensis Geniez, Padial, and Crochet, 2011 Mali (Adrar des Ifoghas), Niger (Aïr Mountains), Algeria (Ahaggar Mountains), Libya (Tassili n’Ajjer)
Agama turuensis Loveridge, 1932 Tanzania
Agama wagneri S. Trape, Mediannikov & J. Trape, 2012 Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Chad, Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Ivory Coast.
Agama weidholzi Wettstein, 1932 Gambia agama Senegal, Gambia, W Mali, Guinea-Bissau

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. ^ Linné, Carl von (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae. 1 (10th ed.). p. 215 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  3. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1749). Amoenitates academicæ seu dissertationes variæ physicæ, medicæ botanicæ antehac seorsim editæ nunc collectæ et auctæ cum tabulis æneis. Vol. 1, Holmiæ, Lipsiæ, 563 pp, tab. I–XVI
  4. ^ Seba, A. (1734). Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio. Vol. 1. (pg. 169). J. Wetstenium, & Guil. Smith, & Janssonio-Waesbergios, Amsterdam.
  5. ^ Daudin, F.M. (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)
  6. ^ "agama". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014.
  7. ^ Arends, Jacques (2017). Language and Slavery: A social and linguistic history of the Suriname creoles. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  8. ^ Wagner, Philipp; Wilms, Thomas M.; Bauer, Aaron; Böhme, Wolfgang (2009). "Studies on African Agama. V. On the origin of Lacerta agama Linnaeus, 1758 (Squamata: Agamidae)" (PDF). Bonner zoologische Beiträge. 56: 215–223.
  9. ^ "Agama ". The Reptile Database. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  10. ^ 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]