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Girdled and Plated Lizards: Cordylidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Girdle-tailed lizards, which are all active during the day, are known for the way they defend themselves. When one feels threatened, it scurries into a crack in a rock, blows up its body, and wedges itself in so an attacker cannot reach it. All of the girdle-tailed lizards have very thick scales. When one species, known as the armadillo lizard, is caught too far from a hiding place, it defends itself by rolling into a ball, even grabbing hold of its tail with its teeth, so that the lizard becomes a difficult-to-swallow, scale-covered ball.


Although lizards are very good at running away to a safe hiding place, predators (PREH-duh-ters) or those animals that hunt them for food occasionally are able to capture one. Many lizards defend themselves by losing their tails — purposely dropping them — and later growing a new one. Most lizards can still run very quickly without their tails and dash for cover while the predator snacks on the discarded tail. Snake and grass lizards also drop their tails quickly when they are attacked, but then they have another problem. Because these lizards do not have working arms and legs, and rely on the tail to slither around, they are quite helpless until the new tail grows in.

When flat lizards feel threatened, their body shape allows them to slide into very thin cracks in rocks and out of harm's way. Snake and grass lizards avoid predators with their speed. Although they don't have legs to help them run, they can move very quickly through the grass, sometimes boosting themselves along by pushing off with their long tails. When an attacker grabs the tail, a snake or grass lizard simply drops it and grows a new one.

One of the most unusual behaviors of the plated lizards is that they sunbathe, or bask, in an odd position. They lay on the belly with their arms and legs held up in the air. When frightened, which happens quite often for this shy species, they quickly run for cover under a bush or in some other hiding place or bury themselves in loose soil by moving their arms and legs as if they were swimming. Sometimes they will stay underground for 24 hours before coming above ground again.

Many species of girdled lizards live in groups for much of the year, but during the breeding season, adult males will set up territories and fight to keep other males away. In many species, these battles are little more than showdowns where the males display their bright belly colors. Female girdle-tailed, snake, and grass lizards give birth to baby lizards instead of laying eggs. Each year, the typical female has one to twelve young, which are old enough to have young of their own when they reach two to four years old. The flat lizards, on the other hand, lay two eggs each year in a damp spot within a rock crack. Unlike the girdled lizards, only a few species of plated lizards live in small groups: Most live alone. Also unlike the girdled lizards, the plated lizards are all egg-layers. Scientists still know little about the details on most species of plated lizards.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesGirdled and Plated Lizards: Cordylidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Cape Flat Lizard (platysaurus Capensis): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, GIRDLED AND PLATED LIZARDS AND PEOPLE