Antipredatory Threat Displays and Aggressive Defenses by the Acrodont Lizard Uromastyx aegyptius (Acrodonta: Agamidae: Uromasticinae) when Cornered and in Crevices

William E. Cooper, Jr., Awadh M. Al-Johany


The dhub, a large acrodont lizard from northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, relies strongly on escape into burrows used as refuges when possible. In the laboratory we studied how these lizards defend themselves against human beings serving as simulated predators when the lizards are unable to escape into refuges or are pursued into refuges. When pursued into a corner or overtaken when unable to could enter refuges, dhubs performed impressive threat displays. When fleeing proved ineffective, the lizards performed various combinations of the following behaviors: opening their mouths, hissing, arching their backs upward, tilting their bodies toward the pursuing investigator, inflating their bodies, performing repeated sinuous undulations of the body along its longitudinal axis, and sweeping the heavily armed tail or both the head and tail toward the investigator. The displays appeared quite threatening and dhubs can deliver powerful bites and strong blows with the heavy, spinous tail. When approached while in crevices, dhubs pressed body parts against the crevice roof or wall while holding the tail free of the wall. Most individuals used the tail to lash at the investigator, but few exhibited any of the defensive display behaviors used outside crevices. Thus, dhubs have distinct defensive behaviors inside and outside refuges. They use refuges when possible, employ threatening and startling displays as well as physical defenses when overtaken outside refuges, and when confronted within refuges wedge the body against walls to make extraction more difficult while blocking access to the body and defending themselves by blows delivered by the tail.


lizard defenses; refuge use; threat displays; Squamata; Agamidae; Uromasticinae; Uromastyx aegyptius

Full Text:



Abu-Tarboush H. M., Atia M., and Al-Johany A. M. (1996), «Nutritional quality of dhub (lizard) meat (Uromastyx aegyptius Blanford 1874) and characterization of its protein using electrophoretic techniques», Ecol. Food Nutr., 35, 275 – 284.

Al-Saleh S. A. and Al-Johany A. M. (1995), «Studies on the association between the spiny-tailed lizard Uromastyx aegyptius (Agamidae) and the black scorpion Androctonus crassicauda (Buthidae)», Arab Gulf J. Sci. Res., 13, 689 – 694.

Anderson S. C. (1999), The Lizards of Iran, Soc. Stud. Amph. Rept.

Arnold E. N. (1984), «Evolutionary aspects of tail shedding in lizards and their relatives», J. Nat. Hist., 18, 127 – 169.

Arnold E. N. (1988), «Caudal autotomy as a defense», in: C. Gans and R. B. Huey (eds.), Biology of the Reptilia. Vol. 16. Ecology B. Defenses and Life History, Alan R. Liss, New York, pp. 235 – 273.

Congdon J. D., Vitt L. J., and King W. W. (1974), «Geckos: adaptive significance and energetics of tail autotomy», Science, 184, 1379 – 1380.

Cooper W. E., Jr., and Vitt L. J. (1985), «Blue tails and autotomy: enhancement of predation avoidance in juvenile skinks», Z. Tierpsychol., 70, 265 – 276.

Cooper W. E., Jr., and Vitt L. J. (1991), «Influence of detectability and ability to escape on natural selection of conspicuous autotomous defenses», Can. J. Zool., 69, 757 – 764.

Cooper W. E., Jr., Van Wyk J. H., and Mouton P. le F. N. (1999), «Incompletely protective refuges: Selection and associated defences by a lizard, Cordylus cordylus (Squamata: Cordylidae)», Ethology, 105, 87 – 700.

Cooper W. E., Jr., Van Wyk J. H., Mouton P. le F. N., Al-Johany A. M., Lemos-Espinal J. A., Paulissen M. A., and Flowers M. (2000), «Lizard antipredatory behaviors preventing extraction from crevices», Herpetologica, 56, 394 – 401.

Gans C., Laurent R. F., and Pandit H. (1965), «Notes on a herpetological collection from the Somali Republic», Ann. Mus. Roy. lAfr. Centrale (Tervuren, Belgique). Ser. IN-8. Sci. Zool., 134, 1 – 93 + 10 plates.

Greene H. W. (1988), «Antipredator mechanisms in reptiles», in: C. Gans and R. B. (eds.), Biology of the Reptilia. Vol. 16. Ecology B. Defenses and Life History, Alan R. Liss, New York, pp. 1 – 152.

Herrel A., Aerts P., Fret J., and De Vree F. (1999), «Morphology of the feeding system in agamid lizards: ecological correlates», Anat. Rec., 254, 496 – 507.

Hertz P. E., Huey R. B., and Nevo E. (1982), «Fight versus flight: body temperature influences defensive responses of lizards», Anim. Behav., 30, 676 – 679.

Schall J. J. and Pianka E. R. (1980), «Evolution of escape behavior diversity», Am. Nat., 115, 551 – 556.

Schleich H. H., Kastle W., and Kabisch K. (1996), Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, Koeltz Sci. Books, Koenigstein, Germany.

Vernet R., Lemire M., Grenot C. J, and Francaz J.-M. (1988), «Ecophysiological comparisons between two large Saharan lizards, Uromastyx acanthinurus (Agamidae) and Varanus griseus», J. Arid Env., 14, 187 – 200.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

You can subscribe to the print or electronic version of the journal on the site of EastView Company. If you have any questions, please write to the email