SCALY TALES: CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ABACO
The northern curly-tailed lizard Leiocephalus carinatus, to give it its full name, resembles a tiny dragon with a twist in its tail. These little critters bask in the sun, or scuttle away into holes and crevices as you approach them. I suspect that even a confirmed herpophobic would find some charm in them. They are, of course, completely harmless to humans.
Surprisingly, the Bahamas is home not just to one but five different curly-tail species, and nine sub-species. Broadly-speaking, the variants are found on different and specific islands and have discrete local markings. Mostly they are brownish, but they may also be grey or with a greenish tinge like this one I recently photographed.
Curly-tail males, being very territorial, turn somewhat aggressive around breeding time, which is basically most the the year, from February to October. Behaviours indicative of their territorial claims include tail curling / uncurling (of course), head-bobbing, strutting about in an agitated way and inflating the sides of their necks in a threatening kind of way. The tiny-tails, 2″ long when born, are known as ‘hatchlings’.
THREATS TO CURLY TAILS
According to the Bahamas National Trust BNT, the main dangers to the curly-tails of the Bahamas are:
- Dogs, cats, rats and introduced predators such as raccoons
- Collection for the pet trade – curly tails are unprotected by CITES listing (also cute)
- Collection of the rarer endemics by reptile enthusiasts seeking ‘exotics’
- Development and habitat destruction (though it is noted that curly tails seem to adjust well in developed areas)
WHY THE CURLY TAIL?
- As mentioned above, for use in territorial posturing
- In courtship displays by males to attract females (luckily a method not available to humans)
- As a response to predators, confusing an attacker with movement at both ends
- As a last resort, to detach to aid escape (the tail re-grows)
- For fun and just because they can grow one and you cannot
Credits: all photos, Keith Salvesen except #2 & #6, Charles Skinner; BNT