East African Spiny-tailed Lizard

East African Spiny-tailed Lizard
East African Spiny-tailed Lizard
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Sauria
Family: Cordylidae
Genus: Cordylus
Species: C. tropidosternum
Binomial name
Cordylus tropidosternum

The East African Spiny-tailed Lizard (Cordylus tropidosternum common name: dwarf sungazer), also known as the Tropical Girdled Lizard, is an arboreal or rupicolous (rock-dwelling) lizard found in dry forests of East Africa. They range from the southern coast of Kenya to eastern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique. It is a diurnal. They lay down fat reserves in preparation for the dry season.


Tropical Girdled Lizards are brown above with dark brown and cream spots or thin dark bands. A conspicuous black stripe runs along both sides of the neck from the ear to the shoulders. The lips, throat, and belly are cream. The tail is very spiny. Adults are 160–190 mm in length. Males have slightly wider heads than females (the length of a males’ head is about 1.25 times the width whereas the length of a females head is about 1.33 times the width) and are aggressive toward other males of the same species. Both sexes have femoral pores.

Tropical Girdled Lizards are almost identical to the Limpopo Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii) and the Ukinga Girdled Lizard (Cordylus ukingensis). Limpopo Girdled Lizards have smooth scales on the throat and belly (keeled scales in C. tropidosternum) and its nostril is in the center of the nasal scale (the nostril of C. tropidosternum is positioned in the lower posterior corner of the nasal scale). The Ukinga Girdled Lizard has distinctive white lips, a small ridge over each eye (supraocular ridge) and the loreal scale is fused with the preocular scale (separate in C. tropidosternum and C. jonesii).

The Tropical Girdled Lizard is exported from Tanzania and Mozambique for the pet trade where it is commonly referred to as the “Armadillo Lizard” or “Forest Armadillo Lizard or “Jone's Armadillo Lizard.” Tropical Girdled Lizards are not flattened like the true Armadillo Lizard (Cordylus cataphractus) and do not grasp their tail and roll into a ball for defense. With gentle handling and plenty of hiding places, Tropical Girdled Lizards become excellent, long-lived pets and can be trained to accept food from their owner’s hand.


Branch, B., 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa: Ralph Curtis Books Publishing, Sanibel Island, Florida, 399 p.

Broadley, D. G., and Branch, W. R., 2002. A review of the small east African Cordylus (Sauria: Cordylidae), with the description of a new species: African Journal of Herpetology, 51(1): 9-34.

Spawls, S., Howell, K, Drewes, R, and Ashe, J, 2002. A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa: Academic Press, San Diego, 543 p.

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