Added January 6 2013. Last updated 8 January 2013: added details for A. hartmanni, A. kirkii, A. mossambica, A. mwanzae and A. persimilis.

A look at the Family Agamidae



Agama are the main agamid genus of Africa: the other genus, Uromastyx, is found in North Africa and the Middle East, but Agama is widespread throughout the continent, being absent only from the Sahara and Namib deserts and the Congo basin. The genus was once much larger, but species formerly considered members have now been placed in the Laudakia (especially European and Asian members).

Among characteristics of the genus are the following: plump body somewhat dorsoventrally flattened: throat fold, gular sac present or absent, short nape crest often present, dorsal crest absent or feebly developed, large round tympanum usually visible in both sexes: head somewhat triangular, covered with small scales, enlarged occipital scale covers pineal eye: large eyes have round pupils and scaly eyelids: external ear opening larger than the eye: spines near the ear and on neck sides: legs long and muscular, with thin toes of which the fourth is the longest: thin tail round or feebly compressed, covered with shingle-like scales and cannot be shed or regenerated. No femoral pores; preanal pores present only in males.

Agama species are mainly diurnal and terrestrial, with a few rock-dwelling or arboreal forms. Sexual dichromism is fairly prevalent in this genus, with males usually growing larger than females and developing spectacularly bright colours in the breeding season. They are very territorial, dominant males controlling a family group or harem of up to 25 animals. Interestingly, Manthey and Schuster note that there is sometimes also a dominant female who rarely leaves the side of the dominant male and has chases off other females. Obviously this has ramifications if you wish to have more than one lizard per enclosure: the brightly-coloured males may be attractive but as a rough guide it is best to have only one in a group, since most enclosures will lack the space to allow more than one male to coexist.

There is not much in print (at least outside academic publications) dedicated to these lizards, and species identification can be difficult. It should however be noted that DeVosjoli does not recommend these lizards for beginners, if only because identifying the origin and therefore needs of imported animals is often tricky. They are sporadically seen in the pet trade, but do not seem to have acquired much of a following outside of agamid specialists. More captive breeding is certainly desirable as most specimens seem to be wild-caught.


A. aculeata, Ground Agama

A. agama, House Agama/Red-Headed Rock Agama

A. anchietae, Anchieta's Agama

A. armata, Peter's Ground Agama

A. atra, Southern Rock and Knobel's Agama

A. bocourti

A. bottegi

A. boueti

A. boulengeri

A. caudospina, Elmenteita Rock Agama

A. caudospinosa

A. cornii

A. cristata

A. doriae

A. etoshae Etosha Agama

A. gracilimembris

A. hartmanni

A. hispida, Southern Spiny Agama 

A. impalearis

A. insularis

A. kaimosae

A. kirkii

A. mehelyi

A. montana

A. mossambica

A. mwanzae

A. paragama

A. persimilis

A. planiceps

A. robecchii

A. rueppelli

A. sankaranica

A. spinosa

A. weidholzi



Scientific Name

Common Name





A. aculeata

Ground Agama 

Southern and eastern Africa

Avg SVL 7½-10cm, max SVL 11½cm (m), 10½cm (f)

In southern Africa, found in semi-desert and sandveld savannah, absent from moist coastal regions and true desert [Branch]. Terrestrial but in southern Africa may climb into low scrub to bask; a short hole is dug at the base of a bush. Diet is almost exclusively of ants or termites, making this a poor choice as a captive pet. Scalation: 75-115 rows at midbody; ventral scalation smooth; dorsal head scales overlap towards snout. Other: head triangular, snout relatively rounded; earholes large;5th toe very long, reaching to end of 1st ; dorsal crest present but weakly developed, may extend on to tail; males have single row of 9-14 preanal pores. Coloration: body olive to reddish-brown (sometimes grey to yellowish); grey-yellow dorsal streak usually present, sometimes with thin central black line; 4-5 paired dark blotches on the back and 10-13 bars on tail; 2 bars or chevrons often present between the eyes; belly creamy white to pale pink; males have 3 parallel blue-black lines on each side of throat bordering a central network, the latter (network) usually present in females but may be faint or absent. Reproduction: early summer; breeding males develop deep blue sides to the head; 8-18 (usually 11-12) eggs laid in a hole in sandy soil, often beneath a stone or base of a bush; incubation is 45-50 days at 30ºC; in southern Africa a second clutch may be laid in February. [Branch]. 

A. a. aculeata


RSA (N Cape Province), W Botswana, Namibia, S Angola

Distinguished by smooth dorsal shields and fourth toe being longer than third [Branch].

A. a. distanti


RSA (Orange Free State, NE Cape Province, S Transvaal)

Distinguished by smooth dorsal shields and third toe being longer than fourth [Branch].

A. africana


For many years the type specimen of this species was erroneously listed as Oreodeira gracilipes (from Australia!) - see Reptile Database entry for details.

A. agama

House Agama/ Red-Headed Rock Agama

Much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal as far eastwards as Ethiopia, southeast to Tanzania and southwest to Angola

Max TL 35cm (m), avg TL 20-30cm, hatchlings 8-10cm; tail roughly 60% of TL

Widespread and adaptable species; habitats include coastal thicket and woodland, moist and dry savanna and semi-desert. However it seems to require either rocky outcrops or large trees to be present in an area. In addition to rocks or trees it may also use buildings and walls; here dense colonies may form [SHDA]. Colonies are headed by dominant male. See SHDA for combat behaviour and natural enemies. These lizards are very fond of ants, but take a wide range of insects as well as some plant material, including grass, flowers and fruit. The subspecies listed below have within the last few years been elevated to full species status. Scalation details: body scales homogenous, in 59-90 rows at midbody. Other: small crest on nape; head large and triangular; eye fairly large, ear opening obvious; tail has prominent ridge in some males; 11-15 preanal pores; sometimes 2nd row may be present. Coloration: overall blue body, often with pale vertebral stripe tapering posteriorly; displaying males have vivid red-orange, orange-yellow or yellow head, with orange, pink or occasionally blue chin; other males have pale or white heads, shoulders and stripes; ocellate lateral patterns may be present with tail ringed light/dark blue; non-displaying males are dull brown with faint dark crossbars and green/yellow speckles on head; females and juveniles are brown, with green speckling on head, indistinct dark crossbars and vertebral stripe made up of irregular markings; vivid red or orange patch may be present at junction of upper limbs with body. Reproduction: in Ethiopia, females lay a clutch of 5-9 eggs buried in a hole or in soil; incubation here is 50-60 days. [SOURCE: SHDA]

A. a. agama

C Africa


A. a. africana


Now considered a full species: see entry above. 

A. a. boensis

Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Senegal

Now considered a full species by some authorities: see Reptile Database entry

A. a. dodomae


Considered part of the species A. lionotus by some authorities: see Reptile Database entry. Coloration: males have red, blue-edged throat.

A. a. elgonis

Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania

Considered part of the species A. lionotus by some authorities: see Reptile Database entry. Coloration: brick red throat with transverse black mark.

A. a. lionotus

Uganda, Kenya

Considered a full species by some authorities – see Reptile Database entry.  

A. a. mucosoensis



A. a. savattieri

C Africa


A. a. ufipae

W Tanzania (Lake Tanganyika)

Found southwest of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Rukwa. Considered part of the species A. lionotus by some authorities: see Reptile Database entry. Coloration: males have blue throad.

A. a. usambarica

Tanzania (Usambara Mtns)

Coloration: crimson throat with grey lines.

A. anchietae

Anchieta's Agama 

RSA (Cape Province), Namibia, Angola, S Congo


Manthey and Schuster recommend this as a peaceful species which should be kept in a lowland rainforest terrarium.

A. armata

Peter's Ground Agama/Tropical Spiny Agama

Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, NE Botswana, RSA (Natal, Transkei, Transvaal, Swaziland)

Avg SVL 7-8cm, max 9½cm, hatchlings 6-7cm? Tail 55% of TL

Formerly considered subspecies of A. aculeata. A ground-dweller on open plains or small outcrops and rock. Scalation: scales on front top of head overlap towards snout; dorsal scales are keeled; several longitudinal rows of enlarged spiny scales on dorsum; 88-105 scale rows at midbody; ventrals smooth or bluntly keeled. Other: head broad, neck thin, snout short and rounded; body squat and flattened; Coloration: brown, grey or reddish, colour depending on soil/rock colour of habitat; 2-3 crossbars on head, of which that between the eyes is V-shaped; pale vertebral stripe, sometimes enclosing very fine dark line, which may fade at back legs or extend along the whole tail; 4-5 pale short dorsal crossbars; in breeding males these crossbars become greenish and the lips and chin vivid green or turquoise; white chin has fine black markings and blue dot at the base; chest is speckled reddish, otherwise ventrally white. Reproduction: 9-16 eggs laid [SOURCE: SHDA]

A. atra

Southern Rock and Knobel's Agama 

RSA, Namibia, Botswana 



A. a. atra

Southern Rock Agama 

RSA (N Cape Province, Zululand, Transvaal), S Namibia, S Botswana 



A. a. knobeli

Knobel's Agama 

SW Namibia



A. bocourti


Senegal and Gambia



A. bottegi





A. boueti


Mali, S Mauritania, NW Senegal, Niger



A. boulengeri


Senegal, Mauritania and Mali



A. caudospinosa

Elmenteita Rock Agama

Kenya (Kedong Valley, Lakes Naivasha, Elmenteita and Nakuru, NE to Muranga and Nanyuki but not E side of Mt Kenya, N to Maralal, W to Moiben and Trans-Nzola and Kisumu)

Avg TL 20-35cm, max 45cm, hatchlings ?cm Tail 60% of TL

Found in montane forest above 1,000m (3,000ft), usually near streams. It sits on thin trees or on the ground and hides in holes. Manthey and Schuster suggest a cloud-forest terrarium. Apparently it is a quiet and withdrawn terrarium subject: SHDA also describe it as “secretive” and “the most retiring of the agamas”. Scalation details: dorsal scales almost smooth; clusters of large spiky scales around earhole, at angle of jaws and on neck. Other: head triangular, neck narrow, body broad and flattened; usually double row of 7-12 femoral pores; tail in males thick and at base very wide, in females long and slim. Coloration: see SHDA for details. Reproduction: no details available. [SOURCES: Manthey & Schuster, SHDA].

A. c. caudospinosa

A. c. spawlsi

Kenya (Mount Kenya)

A. cornii




Considered synonymous with A. hartmanni: see Reptile Database entry.

A. cristata

Insular Agama

Guinea, Mali


A. doriae


Ethiopia, Sudan, N Nigeria and N Cameroon



A. d. doriae

Doria's Agama

Ethiopia and Sudan



A. d. benueensis

Benoue Agama

N Nigeria, N Cameroon, Ghana


Found in montane forest at 1,000m and above near flowing water, on thin trees and also among ferns along paths. The sexes can be hard to distinguish. Manthey and Schuster suggest the cloud-forest terrarium. 

A. etoshae

Etosha Agama 

N Namibia (Etosha Pan)



A. gracilimembris

Benin Agama

Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, poss. neighbouring countries inc. Chad



A. hartmanni


S Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, N Kenya


Scalation details: dorsal scales equally keeled; ventral scalation smooth. Other: ear opening larger than eye; 3rd toe nearly as long as 4th toe. Coloration: dorsally olive brown with small dark brown spots, yellow vertebral line from occiput to tail base, two vague rows of large yellow black-outlined spots on flanks; ventrally ochre. [SOURCE: Boulenger]

A. hispida

Southern Spiny Agama 

RSA, Zimbabwe, Namibia, S Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi



A. h. hispida


RSA (W Cape Province), S Namibia



A. h. makarikarica

Makgadikgadi Spiny Agama

NE Botswana (Makarikari Pan)



A. impalearis

Bibron's Agama 

Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Malawi 

Max TL >30cm; max SVL 12cm

An agile climber and leaper, dwelling in a variety of habitats from Mediterranean vegetation to barren ground with only single bushes every few metres. These agamas often assume a lookout posture on top of a boulder or tree. They take refuge in rock fissures or self-dug or old rodent burrows: burrow entrances may be exposed to the sun. In North Africa A. impalearis is often associated with Uromastyx acanthinura. Diet is fairly catholic and in the wild includes spiders, caterpillars, ants, hard-shelled beetles, smaller lizards and flowers: KKS record that in captivity crickets, beetles, baby mice, clover and dandelion leaves and raw and cooked fruit are all consumed. They also note that whereas in the wild this species seems to meet its water intake from succulents, in captivity it drinks even if it eats fresh plant matter. Scalation: nostrils tubular, pierced just below canthus rostralis; 11-14 supralabials; groups of spines on sides of head and neck, 3-9 of these groups on each side between posterior part of head and shoulder, in juveniles these areas commence life as small globules with tubercles which become spines with age; central spines are always largest in each group; vertebral tubercles on neck grow to become a crest of long spines, about 1-1½cm long; dorsal head scales smooth or indistinctly keeled; occipital scales larger than surrounding scales. Throat strongly plicate but no gular pouch; dorsal scales homogenous, large, rhomboidal, mucronate, imbricate; strong keels converge towards vertebral line; old individuals have slight nuchal crest. Ventrals small and smooth. Other: 1st and 4th fingers equal, 3rd and 4th toes nearly equal; tail weakly compressed laterally with whorls of strongly keeled spinose scales; scales on limbs are mucronate. Coloration: variable, depending on location, health and mood. Moroccan males have orange head and tail, deep blue body and middorsal yellow stripes, females are brown with irregular dorsal pattern of reddish brown spots. Algerian males may have greyish white head, be dorsally iridescent green and blue with numerous dark patches and a white median line from back to tail base and have a blue tail with white or light blue spots and grey or bluish grey tip, while females have blue head, throat striated with blue and white and dorsal transverse bars of lemon yellow and vermillion, grey legs and tail and white venter. In SW Morocco mating males become vivid rust coloured on the head and brownish yellow and greyish black, with brownish dorsal spots, and mating females blue on the head with dorsal yellow and red transverse bars. Reproduction: males are larger, with anal pores and bluish throat, their coloration being generally more vivid. Females have a round tail base, while that of males is very feebly compressed and has a low crest. Season depends on location: see KKS for details. Females lay 2 or more clutches per year, each clutch consisting of 5-20 (usually 9-12) eggs, the number increasing with age. Females are often very emaciated after oviposition. Under field conditions incubation at 30 deg C takes 60 days [SOURCE: KKS].

A. insularis


Rooma Island, Las Islands, off Guinea 



A. kaimosae





A. kirkii

Kirk's Rock Agama 

Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, E Botswana  

Max SVL 11½cm, avg SVL 8-10cm; tail almost 2x SVL.

A rock-dweller, living on outcrops in arid and mesic savanna. The preponderance of ants and termites in its diet, and its shyness, make this perhaps a less than ideal captive. Scalation details: dorsal scales roughly equivalent size to ventral scales, strongly keeled in males, less so in females, directed inward towards backbone; dorsal crest present and extends on to tail, well developed on the neck of adult males; 99-114 rows at midbody; ventral scales smooth. Other: single (sometimes double) row of 10-14 preanal pores in males. Coloration: breeding males have vermilion to yellow head, purple body with whitish vertebral crest and adjacent scales, hind limbs and tail light blue-green ringed with white; breeding females have blue-green head, maroon body with blue-grey blotches and grey limbs and tail; in winter juveniles and adults become mottled grey-black. Reproduction: up to 10 eggs laid in a hole or beneath rock. [SOURCE: Branch]

A. k. kirkii

A. k. fitzsimonsi

S Zimbabwe

A. mehelyi





A. montana

Montane Rock Agama 

E Tanzania (Usambara and Uluguru Mtns) 



A. mossambica

Mozambique Agama 

Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, E Zimbabwe, Mozambique

Max TL 31cm (m), 25¾cm (f), hatchlings ? Max SVL 11½cm, avg SVL 8-10cm

Found mainly in lowland savanna and forest fringe, where it is at home both on the ground and in trees. Unlike Kirk's Agama, which it closely resembles, this species is tolerant of man and is even found in urban gardens [SHDA]. Diet is mainly ants but beetles, other insects and millipedes are also taken. Scalation details: dorsal scales larger than ventral scales; 69-94 scale rows at midbody; ventrals keeled. Other: head rounded, eye large; 13-15 preanal pores. Coloration: according to SHDA, quite variable; Branch gives the following details; breeding males overall pink or grey-brown, blue heads and broad blue-white vertebral stripe, belly suffused with pink and large blue patch on throat; breeding females dorsally brilliant orange but otherwise as for A. kirkii; in winter adults develop olive to dark brown head with reddish bar across forehead, large reddish spot above shoulder and sometimes 4-5 red to black spots on the flanks; juveniles have distinct dorsal spots interspersed with smaller yellow spots and yellowish vertebral streak. Reproduction: in East Africa, females lay eggs towards end of short rainy season or at beginning of long rains. [SOURCE: Branch, SHDA]

A. mwanzae

Mwanza Flat-Headed Agama 

NW Tanzania 

Max TL 32cm, avg TL 20-30cm, hatchling 8-9cm? Tail about 65% of TL (m/f)

Rock dwelling species found in medium and high savanna: range includes Masai Mara and Serengeti. Lives among many different types of rocks as long as there are hiding places. Unlike some Agama species, these are wary. Colonial structure (up to 20 or more) with dominant male. Diet of insects and other arthropods, like some other Agama fond of ants. Scalation details: dorsal scales feebly keeled in 70-90 midbody rows; clusters of large spiky scales on neck; reduced vertebral crest present. Other: head triangular, ear opening large and visible, neck narrow; body depressed, limbs long and muscular; adult male has broad tail base, female tail is long and slim. Coloration: displaying males have vivid pink front of body including head, neck, shoulders, throat and chest, with violet or blue-white vertebral and tail and lower back mottled in blue-white, front limbs blue, hindlimbs green; non-displaying males grey-brown to blue with white speckling and ocelli on sides and electric blue vertebral stripe and tail, chin striped brown; females and juveniles brown with irregular dark crossbars and vertebral stripe of light dashes, ventrally yellow or cream. Reproduction: no details available [SOURCE: SHDA].

A. paragama


N Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon 



A. p. paragama


N Nigeria and N Cameroon 



A. p. sylvanus


Ghana and Cameroon 



A. persimilis

Somali Rock/ Somali Painted Agama 

Somalia, NE Kenya

Max TL 16cm, avg TL 10-14cm, hatchlings 5-6cm? Tail 60-65% of TL

An inhabitant of dry savanna and semi-desert, where it lives in holes beneath a bush. Feeds on insects and other arthropods. Unusually for agamid lizards, in this species females are probably larger than males. Scalation details: body scales keeled and overlapping, in 52-57 rows at midbody. Other: head rounded, body squat and depressed, limbs long, hind toes very long. Coloration: overall red or reddish-brown; broad pale or brown bar between eyes; snout dorsally pink or brown with large pink or red patch on crown and narrow or wide vertebral line of grey, white, red or brown, on either side of which are paired brown and black or orange blotches; back suffused with grey or blue-grey towards hind limbs; large brown blotch on each flank; limbs mottled brown; underside white. Reproduction: no details available. [SOURCE: SHDA]

A. planiceps

Namibian Rock Agama 

Namibia and Angola 



A. p. planiceps





A. p. schacki





A. robecchii


N Somalia



A. rueppelli

Ruppell's Agama

Somalia, Ethiopia, N Kenya

Avg TL 18-25cm, max TL 28cm

Found in dry country in low-altitude savanna and semi-desert. Terrestrial, but will climb into shrubs and bushes to bask. Home is a hole under a bush or in thickets, or on sheet rock with crevices to hide. Feeds on insects and other arthropods. Scalation details: body scales keeled, 54-64 rows at midbody; cluster of large spiky scales around ear opening. Other: head triangular, body squat and depressed, limbs slender and long; 9-13 preanal pores (fewer in females). Coloration: overall brown, either almost uniform or with faint or distinct pattern; pale brown bar between eyes usually present together with darker brown bar in front and behind it; back of head grey-brown; two wide blotches on either side of nuchal vertebral scales; fine pale vertebral stripe; 3 pairs of brown blotches on each side; either brown bar or series of brown blotches on flank; limbs mottled brown and yellow; tail barred light and dark brown. Reproduction: no details available. [SOURCE: SHDA]

A. r. rueppelli


Somalia and adj. Ethiopia 



A. r. occidentalis


S Ethiopia and NW Kenya



A. r. septentrionalis


NC & E Kenya 



A. sankaranica


Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Cameroon



A. spinosa


Egypt, N Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, N Somalia 


Easily recognised by its nuchal crest within its range [Laurent et al]. 

A. weidholzi


Senegal, Gambia, Mali 




Excellent field guide to the reptiles of the subcontinent, giving colour plates and scalation details for each species (and ecology where possible).