Saara hardwickii, commonly known as Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard or the Indian spiny-tailed lizard is a species of agamid lizard found patchily distributed in the Thar desert, Kutch, and surrounding arid zones in India and Pakistan. These lizards are mainly herbivorous are live in numbers in some areas. These lizards are found in loose clusters and attract raptors and predators. They are also hunted by local peoples in the belief that the fat extracted from it is an aphrodisiac.
It has been suggested that Uromastyx sensu lato along with the sister group of Leiolepis may be considered as a distinct family, the Uromastycidae, however this is not widely accepted as the rest of the Agamidae do not form a clear sister group.
The type locality for the species is Kanauj district in Uttar Pradesh. It inhabits the dry desert tracts of the northern half of the plains of India into Pakistan. It ranges from Uttar Pradesh in the east to Rajasthan in the West and the Kachchh area of Gujarat. The hot Thar desert is the stronghold of this species and are found extensively in the Jaisalmer, Barmer and Churu districts in Rajasthan. It is also found in some parts of Madhya Pradesh (Rewa).
- Urdu Sanda
- Hindko - Sap-slinda
- Punjabi - salma
- Gujarati - sandho
- Rajasthani - sanda
- Konkani -gaar*
The Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard has a rounded head with a flat snout. It is usually yellowish brown, sandy or olive in colour. It may have black spots and vermiculations and a distinctive black spot on the front of the thigh. It has a dorso-ventrally flattened body with wrinkled skin. It has distinctive tail whorls of spiny scales with large spines on the side which give the lizard its name. The tail is bluish-grey (in Jaisalmer) to sand-coloured (in Kutch).
The colour of the lizards varies and darker colours are seen during the colder seasons.
Male ranges from 40 to 49 cm in length while it is 34 to 40 cm in the case of the female. The male has a longer tail than the female and pronounced femoral pores.
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Laggar falcon (Falco jugger) feeding on a spiny-tailed lizard. The lizard was identified from its remains (tail).
Tail of a spiny-tailed lizard which fell prey to a laggar falcon
A tail found below the habitual perch of a tawny eagle.
Fresh pellet of a tawny eagle which shows spines of a spiny-tailed which it had eaten. The eagle was filmed ejecting this pellet.
Generally found in firm ground rather than pure sand dunes, Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard is often found living in colonies, sometimes on the outskirts of villages. It prefers elevated patches of land especially in Kutch where it is invariably found on isolated patches of high ground (called Bets) above the monsoon water level. Also found in Sindh at Kohistan area surrounding Karachi and Thana Bula Khan.
Birds of prey are a major predator of the lizard in the desert. The saker falcon (Falco cherrug) has been recorded in literature but the tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) and other falcons such as the laggar (Falco jugger) also prey on these lizards. The cattle egret has also been known to prey on it.
The Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard excavates a sloping zig-zagging or spiralling tunnel of 6 to 8 cm diameter and over 2 metres long for itself. The tunnel has an entrance which is flush with the ground and ends in a small chamber. They lizards are solitary in the burrows, but hatchling lizards may stay with the mother initially.
The lizard basks close to the entrance of its burrow. It is very alert and smoothly slides into its burrow at the first hint of danger. The spiny-tailed hibernates through the winter and emerges in spring. By the time it is ready for hibernation, the lizard puts on long strips of fat on each side of the backbone which presumably enables it to survive the long winter months. Projected agricultural growth would cause considerable declines of lizard (>20%) populations.
The Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard is largely herbivorous and its teeth are adapted for a plant diet which comprises the flowers and fruits of the kair (Capparis aphylla); the beans of khejri (Prosopis spicigera); the fruit of Salvadora persica, and grass. In locust-breeding areas the spiny tailed lizard has been known to feed on nymphs and adults of the locust.
In summer they tend to forage more in the mornings feeding to a greater extent on insects and in the monsoons they fed principally on herbs and grasses.
Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard breed in spring after emerging from hibernation. It lays white pigeon-sized eggs.
In India, these lizards are caught for their meat, about which Malcolm Smith says ..with certain castes of Hindus it is a regular article of diet..the meat is said to be excellent and white like chicken...the head and feet are not eaten, but the tail is considered a great delicacy...the fat of the body is boiled down and the resulting oil is used as an embrocation and also as a cure for impotence.
The fat stored in the tail of the lizard is purported to have medicinal properties and for this reason, these lizards are often illegally collected and sold in various parts of India and Pakistan for folk medicine. It is kept in captivity by the cruel practice of dislocating the backbone.
Hardwicke's spiny-tailed lizard is on the verge of extinction in western Rajasthan due to rampant poaching by nomads, who value this reptile both for its meat and as a medicine. During monsoon, these lizards leave their homes and come out to feed on tender shoots of grass when they fall prey to raptors.
- Wilms, T.M.; Böhme, W.; Wagner, P.; Lutzmann, N.; Schmitz, A. 2009. On the phylogeny and taxonomy of the genus Uromastyx Merrem, 1820 (Reptilia: Squamata: Agamidae: Uromastycinae) - resurrection of the genus Saara Gray, 1845. Bonner zoologische Beiträge 56 (1/2): 55–99.
- Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Uromastyx hardwickii, p. 116).
- Honda, Masanao; Ota, H; Kobayashi, M; Nabhitabhata, J; Yong, HS; Sengoku, S; Hikida, T (2000). "Phylogenetic Relationships of the Family Agamidae (Reptilia: Iguania) Inferred from Mitochondrial DNA Sequences". Zoological Science. 17 (4): 527–537. doi:10.2108/zsj.17.527.
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- Dutta, S & Jhala Y (2007). "Ecological aspects of Indian spiny-tailed lizard Uromastyx hardwickii in Kutch". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 104 (3): 255–265.
- Mason, C. W. (1911). The Food of birds in India. Thacker, Spink & Co.
- Baindur, A (2009). "The raptors and the agamid.". Indian Birds. 5 (1): 7–10.
- Hume, AO (1869). My Scrap Book: or rough notes on Indian oology and ornithology. Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta. p. 69.
- Maurya KK, Bopanna IP & Dutta S (2009). "Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis preying on the Indian spiny-tailed lizard Uromastyx hardwickii in Kachchh". Indian Birds. 5 (2): 48–49.
- Dutta, S., & Jhala, Y. (2014). Abundance and Habitat Covariates of Lesser Florican and Spiny-tailed Lizard in Kachchh, India (2008-09).
- pp 244-247, Smith, (1935) The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma
- Anindo Dey: Times of India, Delhi, 13 June 2009
- Knapp, Amelie (2004). An assessment of the international trade in spiny-tailed lizards Uromastyx with a focus on the role of the European Union. Technical report to the European Commission (PDF) (Report). CITES.
- Hardwicke, T. & Gray, J.E. 1827 A synopsis of the species of saurian reptiles, collected in India by Major-General Hardwicke. Zool. J. London 3: 214-229
- Vyas, Raju. (1990). Notes on capture of the Spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx hardwickii) in Gujarat. Hamadryad 15: 28
- Daniels, J.C.. (2002). The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India.
- Smith, Malcolm A. (1935). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Reptilia and Amphibia, Vol II - Sauria, Taylor and Francis, London.
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