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The thorntail lizard's most notable feature is, not surprisingly, its tail. From this, it has inherited numerous variations on its name: thorny-tail, beaver-tail or shovel-tail lizard. So the advantages of the scientific name become apparent; it is Tropidurus flaviceps (Scientists have recently revised the taxonomy of these lizards, splitting the genus into several genera, reassigning this species to Uracentron.

It is a medium sized lizard; males measure about 8 inches from head to tail, females are a bit shorter.

The tail is large and flat, perhaps to store fat, rather like a gecko. It is covered with scales that end in a point, forming spines from the tip to the base. The function of the spines is unclear. The brown body is speckled with yellow or gold spots, while the males tend to have orange heads, whereas the females have yellow heads.

Among with many other species, the thorntail lizard is a canopy specialist—it spends its entire life high in the tree tops and is well-adapted for its niche. The species is found throughout much of the lowland neotropics.

The thorntail iguana feeds on small insects that inhabit the branches and twigs high in the canopy. It seems particularly fond of guzzling ants which wander within range. This is the "sit and wait" foraging mode. It is diurnal, active during the day.

During breeding season, males become more territorial and display with bobbing head and body movements to advertise their presence. This motion, found among many similar species of Tropidurus serves to inform prospective mates and rivals of the lizard's condition. Like most reptiles, parental care among this species is probably minimal. Once the eggs are laid (see oviparous), the young are left to fend for themselves.

The conservation picture of this species is muddied by its uncertain taxonomic status. The main threat to the thornytail lizard is most likely loss of its preferred rainforest trees due to deforestation.


Wikipedia: Tropidurus
EMBL Reptile Database : Family Tropiduridae
Lizards of the World - Iguania - Uracentron
Publications by Peter A. Zani (Tropidurus expert)
Taxonomicon: Uracentron flaviceps
Taxonomy of Tropidurus flaviceps

Mainly photos
Photo by Dr. Laurie J. Vitt
Lizard diversity: Figure 7. Tropidurus flaviceps (photo A. Catenazzi).

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