Already from the name Southern Tree Agamas of the species Agama atricollis, it is clear that nature, for sure, has adapted these lizards to an arboreal lifestyle. And above all, she gave them a patronizing coloration. Try to spot Southern Tree Agama in the lush green of the African rainforest – you are unlikely to succeed. Its changeable brownish, olive, or green body easily merges with foliage or tree bark, and its elongated shape can resemble anything – a sticking-out branch, an outgrowth on the trunk, or a piece of the same bark. The sharp claws of the Southern Tree Agama help her deftly climb the trees.
But there are also atypical representatives of Agama atricollis, for example, with a bright blue head. By the way, such lizards are also excellent camouflages. Despite being incredulous and difficult to tame, Southern Tree Agamas love to be kept in terrariums. True, this is possible only if they are provided with suitable conditions – temperature, humidity, feed. Southern Tree Agamas are rather capricious creatures and can easily wither away if something in the environment is not to their liking.
Of course, Southern Tree Agama is not a chameleon. But she also knows how to slightly change her color, adapting it to the surrounding conditions. Most often, the shades of the lizard’s body vary in the range of green – slightly darker, slightly lighter, grayer, or silvery gray. However, Southern Tree Agama is not monotonous. On her skin, there is a varied pattern of irregularly shaped silvery-green and yellowish spots, scales of bluish and yellowish shades, and black spots on the shoulders, most noticeable on the body of the lizard.
The head of the Southern Tree Agama can also be of different colors – olive, bluish, gray, or even emerald green, and the tail is most often green or gray with a silver cross strip. All in all, nature has given Tree Agama all of its most natural colors. And because of the nonsmooth, rough skin with protruding scales, the resemblance of the lizard to woody vegetation is further enhanced.
Some species of Tree Agamas, like iguanas, have a ridge, but it is barely visible. And sometimes, just the scales along the ridge of these lizards are slightly raised vertically. The teeth of the Tree Agama, like those of other members of the family, are located on the outer edge of the jaws and are called acrodont. Moreover, in adult lizards, teeth are divided into different types – canines, incisors, and molars. In fact, these teeth have only an external resemblance to the teeth of mammals and therefore are called by analogy. Tree Agamas do not change their teeth throughout their life, so they gradually wear off. The tongue of the lizards is rather short. Some reptiles have special pores on the inner thighs through which an odorous substance begins to be released during the breeding season, allowing individuals to find each other and demonstrate a willingness to mate. The Tree Agamas do not have such pores. The body shape of these lizards is also peculiar – slender and, as it were, a little compressed from the sides, and the legs are quite long. So Tree Agamas are adapted to active climbing trees and are able to deftly bend around branches if the vegetation is especially dense.
The lizards’ fingers are also tenacious and rather long, there are five of them on each foot. And the tails of Tree Agamas are quite elongated, sometimes they can be equal to the length of the whole body with the head and even slightly exceed it, but, alas, they do not have the ability to bend upwards, but are mostly extended straight. The lizard’s eyes are large, round, and framed by movable eyelids, and there is an open eardrum that can be seen. The triangular or heart-shaped head in Agamas is protected by especially dense polygonal scales and the same dense scales on the abdomen, especially in males.
Tree Agamas of the species Agama atricollis are thermophilic and moisture-loving creatures. Therefore, they feel best in the humid and evergreen tropical forests of eastern Africa. Among the countries of this continent, where you can find Agama, there are states such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Ethiopia. In these forests, there are a lot of valuable tree species, for example, black and copal trees, but in mountainous areas, there are also coniferous forest areas overgrown with juniper with an admixture of broad-leaved trees.
And of course, bamboo trees are characteristic of this region, however, they grow most often in the highest mountain areas. It is in these forests that the Tree Agama lives. The lizard does not avoid dense jungles, where there is almost no undergrowth due to such dense vegetation that the sunlight does not reach the lower tiers of the forests, and it is always humid and cool below. And also Tree Agama can be found in the jungle, where the sun is enough, and tall trees alternate with numerous bushes and thickets of grapes.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Of course, the name of the lizard speaks for itself. Where else can this reptile be, if not in the trees. But, despite the rather dense thickets of the rainforest, Tree Agama periodically gets out into open areas – stumps, thick logs – to sunbathe. This lizard is a very mobile creature, it moves nimbly and quickly along the trunks, but in case of danger, it freezes and merges with the bark, which it is very similar to.
And if a collision still cannot be avoided, then Tree Agama takes a defensive, intimidating pose, primarily to scare the enemy. She turns directly towards him, arches her neck, raises her head, and opens her mouth wide to show the opponent a bright orange or yellow mouth inside. But this technique is required from the Agama in exceptional cases, more often the “costume” of the invisibility is enough. By the way, Agamas with a bright blue head – a subspecies of Tree Agamas – have an even more effective appearance in this regard. And they themselves are slightly larger than the typical arboreal species of lizards. Agamas hunt in a very peculiar way, often taking a wait-and-see attitude and becoming invisible. But as soon as some insect crawls past them, it immediately finds itself in a trap from the lizard’s tongue, the tip of which is covered with mucous glands that hold the victim. Where the leaves and fruits of plants are concerned, Tree Agamas wield their jaws.
Maintenance and Care
The owners of these reptiles often ask herpetologists why Agamas are so prone to skin diseases in captivity. The fact is that in an ordinary terrarium it is quite difficult to maintain a suitable temperature and humidity for them. But if you decide to have a Tree Agama, then be prepared for constant and careful pet care. First, provide it with the right amount of heat. An ordinary fluorescent lamp is also suitable for this, however, it should burn for at least 10 hours a day. The second important condition is the ventilation of the terrarium. Poor air access most often provokes diseases of lizards.
For Southern Tree Agamas, it is best to choose an upright terrarium and plant suitable plants in it for the Agama to climb. To maintain the desired moisture level, you can install a special ventilation filter, but this is not enough. The Southern Tree Agama, like some other lizards, needs to be bathed – at least once a week in warm water, and after bathing, in no case should be brought into a cool room or in a place blown by drafts, but immediately lowered into a warm terrarium. And then your Southern Tree Agama will live with you for a long time and will not cause unnecessary trouble.
Tree Agamas in the wild are unpretentious creatures. They can feed on the available vegetation, diversifying it with various insects. These lizards rarely descend to the ground, only to lay eggs, the rest of the time they live and feed in trees. As for the nutrition of Tree Agamas in the terrarium, then you should adhere to natural norms, that is, give them plant food and a little animal.
Experts recommend crickets as the main animal food for lizards. It is also allowed to feed Tree Agamas with mealworms, some caterpillars and spiders, bugs, slugs, and snails, best of all those that live on plants. Some Tree Agamas get used to such animal foods as the meat of newborn rats or mice, and even chicken meat, but caution should still be exercised with these types of food.
Recommended plants are mixtures of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers, fruits, and leaves of different plants. The best ones are those that you can grow yourself, which means that you can be sure that they are not poisonous. And of course, under artificial conditions, the vitamin balance in the body of the Tree Agama should be maintained with the help of special supplements for reptiles.
In the wild, Tree Agamas mature faster than in captivity. But it is interesting that males in these lizards generally mature later than females. In tropical latitudes, Tree Agamas usually breed during the rainy season, although the generally warm climate encourages lizards to breed all year round. In the mating behavior of Agamas, a special courtship takes place. When a male meets a female, she can either show a willingness to mate or refuse to do so. The supportive female arches her back and tail while raising her head.
During mating, the male bites the female’s neck and puts his paw on her back. The mating process itself takes only a couple of minutes, and after a while, the female starts laying. It is the clutch that “motivates” Tree Agama to descend from its heights, since it needs to bury the eggs in soft soil, having previously dug a suitable hole in it. Tree Agama loosens the nest space with its muzzle and legs and then lays there a lot (5-10 pieces) of small oval white speckled eggs. Wet soil under trees is especially suitable for this, but it is desirable that the place is open enough, since the sun’s heat is needed for young animals.
Interestingly, most Agamas, including Tree Agama ones, are thermoregulated species of reptiles. Moreover, in males, body temperature is usually a couple of degrees higher (29) than in females (26-27). Tree Agama babies are born very small – 3-4 cm in size, but at the same time, they have long tails, almost one and a half to two times longer than the body.