Bulletin 2 - June 1977: Reptiles of the United Arab Emirates

Reptiles of the United Arab Emirates

by J.N.B. 'Bish' Brown

Part 1 - Lizards

The following is a summary of a presentation to the Emirates Natural History Group (Abu Dhabi). Each species was illustrated by 35mm colored slides taken by the author.

Lizards are the most common reptiles seen in the Emirates. Several species occur on Abu Dhabi island but these are limited to the gecko, lacertid and skink families from my present records.

Nearly all lizards have four legs but in a few species they are very short or have disappeared, resulting in a worm like creature. The fingers or digits have developed in a variety of ways to give mobility over sand or enable climbing on smooth surface, depending on habitat. The skin is dry and scaly (not slimy as is often thought). At various stages of growth the skin is shed and replaced by a new one. Many geckos and lacertids are able to drop their tails if caught, leaving a wriggling morsel for the predator. It will later regenerate, but never achieves the color or length of the original tail.

The eyesight of most lizards is very keen. Eyelids have developed again much dependant upon the habitat of the species. Some skinks have a modified lower lid with a transparent window in it. In some other sand dwellers and some geckos the eyelids have fused to make a transparent covering to the eye. Burrowing lizards usually have small eyes and poor eyesight.

Special sense organs known as the organs of Jacobson have been developed to provide "smell". The flickering tongue picks up small particles that are transmitted to the Jacobson's organ in the roof of the mouth.

Reptiles are said to be cold blooded, but this can be misleading as the blood temperature of a lizard can get very high. Body temperature is controlled by basking in the sun when cold and retiring to the shade when hot. In other words the temperature tends to vary with that of the immediate surrounding.

None of the lizards found in the Emirates are poisonous but some of the larger ones can give a painful bite.In the case of the desert monitor the bite could become infected, as this lizard is a carrion eater.

A great deal remains to be learnt about even the commonest of our reptiles, and it is probably still true to say that less is known about the life of reptiles than any other groups of vertebrates. There is plenty of room for our Group to record and study reptiles.

The lizards illustrated by the slides will be described in a later issue, but for reference are listed below. The English names in many cases are purely personal names.

Order: Squamata

Suborder: Lacertilia or Sauria (lizards)

Family: Agamidae

  1. Phyrnocephalus maculatus (Toad headed agamid)
  2. Phyrnocephalus arabicus (Yellow toad headed agamid)
  3. Uramastyx microlepis (Spiny tailed agamid)

Family: Gekkonidae

  1. Bunopus abudhabi (Ground gecko)
  2. Stenodactylus sleuini (Big headed gecko)

Family: Scincidae

  1. Scincus conirostris
  2. Chalcides ocellatus (Ocellated skink)

Family: Lacertidae

  1. Acanthodactylus bosklanus (Bosc's spiny-foot)

Family: Varamidae

  1. Varanus grisceus (desert monitor)

Family: Amphisbaenidae

  1. Doplometopon zatudnyi

Some reference books:

'The World of Reptiles' by Angus Bellairs and Richard Carrington

'Sea Turtles' by Robert Bustard

'Reptiles of Iraq' by Kamel T. Khalaf

'Living Reptiles of the World' by Karl P. Schmidt and Robert F. Inger

'Natural History of Snakes' -- H.W. Parker (The British Museum of Natural History)

'Reptiles and Amphibia of Bahrain' by Michael Gallagher


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