30 January 2022

Arabian Toad-headed Agama - Sakaka

Whilst birding in the Sakaka area in January my daughters found an Arabian Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus arabicus. This species prefers sandy desert areas and is active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey. During the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow. They often stand with their body raised and dart across the ground to catch insects with the act of raising their body off the ground, exposing it to the breeze helping regulate its temperature. Body colour varies with temperature, being darker when cool and lighter when warm, as well as normally matching the surroundings of the surface it lives on. The tracks made by this agama are quite small and rarely show the drag mark of the tail as they move at speed from point to point with their tail raised. Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region Arabian Toad-headed Agama P. arabicus and Spotted Toad-headed Agama P. maculatus. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied (45 mm length), well camouflaged with white, black, brown and orange speckles over the top of the body and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length.