25 October 2022

Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard – Khursaniyah

Whilst looking for Fat Sand Rats in Khursaniyah recently we got excellent views of a couple of Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus schmidti just outside the car. The lizards would quickly run across the sand and then stop and dig up a black coloured ant, which it would then take to a nearby bush to eat. Once, one found an ant on the surface and remained motionless as the ant came closer and then struck and killed the insect. I have seen this lizard many times before but these were some of the best views and was the first time I had seen one eating ants. Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard is one of the most abundant species in the genus Acanthodactylus found in Saudi Arabia and occupies sandy plains, dunes and sabkhas (salt flats), particularly in areas of scrubby vegetation. It was named after Karl Patterson Schmidt, with a type locality of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and it can be distinguished by the exceptionally long fourth toe found on each of its rear feet. As its name suggests it has 'fringes' of elongated scales along the sides of each toe, which are thought to provide better traction on loose sand. It has a light brown or coffee coloured back that is richly speckled with oval-shaped, pale or white spots and can grow to 18 centimetres in length. They have a cylindrical body with smooth, rectangular scales on the belly that are arranged in well-defined rows and scales on the head that are larger than those on the rest of the body. Little is known about the biology of the species but its main prey is ants and when prey is located they instantly go rigid, suddenly quiver their tail and strike. It is a diurnal species that digs burrows in the sand among the roots of vegetation and is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, southeast Iraq and south-west Iran.