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Agama (lizard)

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Agama agama
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
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 atra male, showing the tympanum. Compare coloration with the picture of a female below
Agama atra gravid female, note how coloration differs from male.

Agama (from Sranan Tongo meaning "lizard") is a genus of small-to-moderate-sized, long-tailed, insectivorous Old World lizards. The genus Agama includes at least 37 species in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, where most regions are home to at least one species. Eurasian agamids are largely assigned to genus Laudakia. The various species differ in size, ranging from about 12 to 30 centimetres (5 to 12 in) in length, when fully grown.

Their colour also differs between species, between genders, and according to mood; for example, a dominant male in display mode is far brighter than when it has been caught, beaten by another male, or otherwise alarmed. Females tend to be less colourful than the males of the species.

According to species, agamas live in forest, in bush, among rocks and on crags, but where their habitat has been cleared, or simply occupied by humans, some species also adapt to life in villages and compounds, for example inside the thatch of huts and other sheltering crevices. Agamids' hind legs generally are long and powerful; and the lizards can run and leap swiftly when alarmed.[1]

Agamas are diurnal, active during the day. They can tolerate higher temperatures than most reptiles, but when temperatures approach 38 °C (100 °F) they generally shelter in the shade. Males frequently threaten each other by nodding, weaving, and displaying their brightest colours to establish dominance. If that is insufficient, they lash their tails and threaten each other with open jaws. The jaws are very powerful, and older males commonly have damaged tails as souvenirs of past combat. Females may sometimes chase and fight one another, and hatchlings mimic the adults' behaviour.[1]

Agamas are mainly insectivorous, hunting prey by sight and snatching it opportunistically. Their incisor-like front teeth and powerful jaws are adapted to dealing with quite large, hard prey. They also may eat eggs of other lizards, and sometimes feed on vegetable matter, such as suitable grass, berries, and seeds.

Though not formally polygamous, dominant males commonly accommodate several females at a time in their territory. During courtship, and also when asserting his territory, the male bobs his head in display; this gives rise to some of the common names, such as Afrikaans koggelmander (literally, "little mocking man"). Females occasionally initiate courtship by offering their hindquarters to the male and provoking him to catch her. Typically the breeding season is timed for eggs to be laid during the season after the rains. Eggs are laid in clutches of up to 12, depending on species and the size of the female.[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
Agama aculeata
Merrem, 1820
ground agama Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Republic of South Africa, Mozambique, S Angola, Tanzania, Zambia, Eswatini
Agama africana
(Hallowell, 1844)
West African rainbow Lizard Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone ?, Guinea
Agama agama
(Linnaeus, 1758)
red-headed rock agama, common agama, rainbow agama Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Madagascar
Agama anchietae
Bocage, 1896
western rock agama, Anchieta's agama S Congo (Brazzaville), Angola, Namibia, Republic of South Africa (NW Cape), Botswana
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
Agama atra
Daudin, 1802
southern rock agama Southern Africa
Agama bibronii
Boettger, 1874
Bibron's agama Morocco but it extends south to Western Sahara and east into eastern Algeria
Agama bocourti
Rochebrune, 1884
Bocourt's agama Senegal, Gambia
Agama boensis
Monard, 1940
Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Senegal
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 dodomae
Loveridge, 1923
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, Malaba rock agama W Kenya, Ethiopia
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]
Agama hispida
(Linnaeus, 1758)
common spiny agama, southern spiny agama, spiny ground agama Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, S Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi
Agama insularis
Chabanaud, 1918
insular agama Rooma Island, Guinea
Agama kaimosae
Loveridge, 1935
Kakamega agama Kenya
Agama kirkii
Boulenger, 1885
Kirk's rock agama Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, E Botswana, SW Tanzania
Agama knobeli
Boulenger & Power, 1921
southern rock agama Namibia
Agama lanzai
Wagner, Leaché, Mazuch & Böhme, 2013
Agama lebretoni
Wagner, Barej & Schmitz, 2009
Lebreton's agama Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Fernando Poo (Bioko Island), Nigeria
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)
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
painted agama, similar agama Somalia, Ethiopia, E/NE Kenya
Agama picticauda
(W. Peters, 1877)
Peter's rock agama[11][12] Gabon
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
Gray's agama, spiny agama Egypt, Sudan, N Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, N Somalia
Agama tassiliensis
Geniez, Padial & Crochet, 2011
Mali (Adrar des Ifoghas), Niger (Aïr Mountains), Algeria (Ahaggar Mountains), Libya (Tassili n’Ajjer)
Agama turuensis
Loveridge, 1932
Agama wachirai
Malonza, Spawls, Finch & Bauer, 2021
Marsabit rock agama Kenya
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. Vol. 1. New York, N.Y.: Funk and Wagnalls. OCLC 20316938.
  2. ^ Linné, Carl von (1758). Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Stockholm: L. Salvius. 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. Stockholm, Leipzig. 563 pp., tables I–XVI.
  4. ^ Seba, A. (1734). Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio. Vol. 1. (pg. 169). Amsterdam: J. Wetstenium, & Guil. Smith, & Janssonio-Waesbergios.
  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.). HarperCollins.
  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. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09.
  9. ^ "Agama ". The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org. 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).
  11. ^ "Peters's rock agama, Agama picticauda Squamata: Agamidae". Invasive.Org. Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  12. ^ "Peters's Rock Agama (Agama picticauda)". iNaturalist. 2018-11-17. Retrieved 2020-12-13.

Further reading[edit]

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