Dragons in the Clouds- Three endemic lizards of Horton Plains National Park

Three dragon species protect Horton Plains National Park. Which are known as dragon lizards in the Agamidae family. All four species are endemic to Sri Lanka’s hill country. Species include

  1. Rhino-horned  Lizard
  2. Sri Lanka Pygmy Lizard
  3. Black-lipped Lizard

The Rhino-horned Lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) is one of five horned lizard species endemic to Sri Lanka that belong to the endangered genus Ceratophora. Ceratophora is a Latin word that means “horn-bearer.” This relict genus’ males have an elongated rostral appendage. The male of this slow-moving lizard species has a sharp, upward-pointing “white horn” at the tip of its snout. The “horn” is slightly shorter than the lizard’s snout, but it is frequently significantly shorter or absent in females. Experts are still unsure of the horn’s function, but they believe it helps in communication, particularly during the mating season. A slow-moving arboreal species that can be found on trees one or two meters above ground. When foraging on the ground, it feeds on insects, caterpillars, and earthworms. They are only found on the mountain tops of Horton Plains, Namunukula, Galaha, Hakgala, Pidurutalagala, and Peak Wilderness towards the south of Sri Lanka’s central massif, as their habitat is restricted to the tropical moist montane cloud forests of Sri Lanka’s “wet zone.”

The Sri Lanka Pygmy Lizard (Cophotis zeylanica) is one of two pygmy lizard species in Sri Lanka and is a member of the endangered genus Cophotis. They do not lay eggs, however, unlike other agamid lizards. Instead, the eggs hatch within their bodies and give birth to live young. This lizard is one of the island’s slowest moving lizards. It can only be found in Sri Lanka, and then only in a few places, such as the cloud forests of the Horton Plains, Hakgala, and the top Central Mountain regions. If you are fortunate enough to see one, its irregular-shaped body scales and curled, prehensile tail will quickly identify it as a pygmy lizard. The tail is used to support objects such as branches and twigs.

The Black-lipped Lizard (Calotes nigrilabris) is a member of the genus Calotes, which has the most lizard species in Sri Lanka. It can be distinguished from painted-lipped lizards by the presence of a black bar on the mouth rather than a white or orange bar. This arboreal species spends its days hunting for insects and worms on tree trunks, hedges, and shrubs. It can be found in Horton Plains, residing on the leaves of gorse bushes (Ulex europeus) and Rhododendrons to hunt insect prey such as bees that are attracted to the flowers. Males are extremely territorial. Unfortunately, this unusual species of lizard is on the verge of extinction due to habitat fragmentation and loss, acidification of rainwater, pesticides, and the effects of climate change. Forest die-back, particularly in Horton Plains, may be a factor in the extinction of these species. These fast-moving lizards are vulnerable to death on roads.

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