Last updated 16 February 2003: added and amended details for all species.

The lesser-known


Angolosaurus, Cordylosaurus, Tetradactylus and Tracheloptychus


Of the four genera listed below, none are seen with any frequency, if at all, in captivity, either in zoos or in the pet trade. Since the export of Namibian wildlife is at the moment prohibited, this is unsurprising in some cases, although it seems a shame that there is little chance to study these more unusual lizards, even within research establishments. Contrary to what I first believed from Rogner's accounts of captive care for Angolosaurus and Cordylus, Klaus Adolphs (personal communication, 21 April 2000) informs that both are extremely difficult if not impossible to keep in captivity, even if they were available, which they are not. Of the other two genera, Tetradactylus would seem to need specialised care due to their habitat and unusual body form, while in the case of Tracheloptychus, the pressure on their habitat would make captive breeding highly desirable. To a large degree all the lizards listed here are really suitable for advanced hobbyists, specialists and zoos only.

These four genera are quite varied in form. Angolosaurus is very similar to the North African sandfish, Scincus scincus, while Cordylosaurus is a colourful dwarf plated lizard which resembles its larger congenerics in most other respects. Tetradactylus again has followed a course close to that of some skinks inasmuch as it has very reduced limbs and "swims" through grass, while Tracheloptychus species are slightly smaller copies of the larger Gerrhosaurus and Zonosaurus. They are confined to Madagascar, where they inhabit the riverbanks of tropical forests. Both species of this genus show another example of convergence with skinks, this time with such species as Egernia cunninghami inasmuch as they have very keeled dorsal scales and the ears can be closed with moveable scales. One important difference from the other gerrhosaurid lizards is that in Tracheloptychus the lateral fold is reduced to a narrow structure on the neck (Grzimek), the keeled scales on the dorsal areas gradually becoming smoother as they proceed downwards towards the imbricated ventral scales. Tracheloptychus is occasionally seen in the pet trade.

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
A. skoogi Sand Plated Lizard Namib desert from Namibia to SW Angola. 10-12" This rather unusual plated lizard lives among the coastal sand dunes of the Kaoko veldt in the Namib desert in a manner similar to the "sandfish" skinks of North Africa. In keeping with this mode of life it has a pointed snout and somewhat cylindrical body: the nostrils and ear openings are similarly protected by scales, another skink-like adaptation, while the toes have comb-like scales attached to them to aid in "swimming" through the sand. Males can be distinguished by their pre-anal pores. The colours of A. skoogi vary, the back being ivory, grey-white or brown-yellow, often with square orange flecks: the sides are paler and again often have pale flecks, while the chin, throat and forward part of the breast are black and the ventral surfaces white (Rogner). The young are rather more sand-coloured, an obvious camouflage mechanism. Also, if threatened these lizards will quickly disappear into the sand, where they can remain hidden for up to 24 hours (Rogner). They tend to bask in a similar manner to some of the North African skinks (eg Chalcides, Scincus and Sphenops), coming up to the surface, sometimes in groups (Grzimek). Although Rogner has a section on the captive care of this lizard, Klaus Adolphs (pers. comm, 21 April 2000) informs me that this a theoretical guess, that nobody has yet kept Angolosaurus in captivity, and that owing to the difficulty of creating the micro-climate of the dunes, captive care would be virtually impossible.
C. subtessellatus Blue-Black Plated Lizard Southern Angola, western Namibia, Namaqualand and West Cape 5-6" The single member of this genus is a rather attractive lizard, if quite small compared to the rest of the Gerrhosaurinae. The limbs are well-developed in relation to the body and the electric blue tail is quite long. The rest of the body is a caramel brown colour with a thick black dorsal longitudinal stripe running from almost the snout to the base of the tail and one on either side of the body. There is a transparent "window" in the lower eyelid, an adaptation that (again) is sometimes found in skinks, and the occasional lacertid. The ventral surfaces are white. In scalation it differs from the other Gerrhosauridae in lacking the shields anterior to the frontal shield on the head. It also has keeled scales beneath the fingers. In the wild it lives among rocks, and for captive husbandry Rogner recommends a stony, rocky terrarium with at least one area planted with succulents. He notes that these lizards will allow an observer to approach quite close before suddenly darting into cover, and also that if caught they rapidly drop their tails, although these regenerate quite quickly. This would seem to make this small plated lizard a display animal rather than the normal handleable type associated with this group of lizards. Little is known about their natural history in the wild other than that they are eager baskers, often laying their bellies on hot sand and stretching out their limbs (Rogner). The female apparently lays a clutch of two eggs, but other breeding information is so far not available. Although Rogner recommends captive care in other aspects as for Angolosaurus, Klaus Adolphs (pers. comm, 20 April 2000) relates that in 1987 he brought back some from Namibia but found them difficult to keep and they only survived for a few months.
T. africanus African Long-Tailed Seps Natal to the southern Cape. 10-12" A skink-like lizard with very reduced, quite tiny, limbs (the subspecies T. africanus fitzsimonsi lacks any front limbs at all) with just one toe. Like Angolosaurus this species has scales protecting its nostrils. The overall colour of T. africanus is olive green, paler underneath, with dark brown stripes running longitudinally along the back, irregular dark brown spots on the head and short black stripes on the sides of the neck. As in most if not all of the Tetradactylus species, the tail is about three times as long as the body and acts as a sort of "motor" to propel the lizard through the grass of the hilly grasslands that form its natural habitat. For captive care Rogner recommends a tank of 80 x 40 cm (about 30" x 18") with the ground surface divided between a layer of deep sand (up to 3½") and a mixture of sand and earth planted with vegetation, although he does not specify what. Stones, rocks and bark roots should be provided for climbing and hiding places. Temperatures should be 24-29 deg C during the day with a hot spot of 35-40 deg C, dropping at night to about 20 deg C. Lower temperatures are recommended during a winter cooling period in order to prepare the animals for mating. The cage should be sprayed daily. T. africanus will take the normal lizard fare in the vivarium, viz. crickets and other insects.
T. breyeri Breyer's Long-Tailed Seps SE Transvaal and Natal, possibly Orange Free State 7-10" Fairly similar to T. africanus, the main difference being that the forelimbs have two toes while the rear limbs only have one. Rogner describes the back as olive brown rather than the olive of the previous species, but the colouring and patterns are otherwise the same. He likewise recommends the same captive care regime for T. breyeri.
T. eastwoodae Eastwood's Long-Tailed Seps Transvaal 7-8" A very rare, if not extinct, lizard known from only two specimens, although unfortunately I was unable to get any more data from this source. There are three toes on the forelegs and two on the hindlegs. No individuals of this species will hopefully be offered as if it still exists in the wild then it is in urgent need of a crash conservation programme.
T. ellenbergeri Ellenberger's Long-Tailed Seps Angola, Zambia, Congo, Zaire 7-10" This species lacks forelegs entirely and has only very small hindlegs with just one toe and no femoral pores.
T. seps Long-Tailed Seps /Short-Legged Seps Natal to the southern Cape. 5-8" T. seps has small but well-formed limbs, in addition to the usual long tail (twice as long as its body) to propel it through the grass. The overall colour varies from olive to red-brown dorsally to a paler shade on the sides and olive to blue-grey on the underneath. The head is is flecked with dark brown and the upper lip with darker flecks. Unusually the neck is white but shares the scheme of short dark bars common to other Tetradactylus species. Their natural habitat is littoral woodland or hilly plateaus, although according to Rogner these lizards are hard to find. He recommends captive husbandry as for T. africanus: apparently females in the wild lay 2-3 large oval cream-white eggs under rotting wood. T. seps is predominately if not completely insectivorous.
T. tetradactylus Long-Toed Seps Southern and Eastern Cape. 7-12" Similar to the other Tetradactylus lizards, T. tetradactylus can be distinguished by its tiny limbs each with four toes. Again, the dorsal colour is olive with just one stripe on each side, the ventral surface is paler and the sides of the neck marked with short black and white stripes. Their habitat is grassy plateaus or the so-called "fynbos", similar to heathland but with a Mediterranean climate (Rogner). Nights are spent in tufts of grass. Diet as with the other Tetradactylus lizards is primarily if not completely insectivorous, and care is likewise as for T. africanus.
T. madagascariensis Malagasy Keeled Plated Lizard SE Madagascar. 6-10" Both Tracheloptychus species live on the river banks of Malagasy rivers and are smallish lizards, reaching a maximum of 8" (Rogner). Rogner compares them in appearance to some of the lacertid family, which is certainly true as far as the long tail goes. Since both are very similar, especially in their care requirements, both can be described together.
There seems to be some dispute over the distribution of T. madagascariensis: Klaus Adolphs places it in SE Madagascar, but Rogner locates it in the extreme south and southwest of Madagascar. The basic colouring of this lizard is a shade of brown that can vary from light to almost black. The flanks tend to be varying shades of mud brown, with two thick, much darker stripes running down the back and ending at the tailbase, separated by a much thinner lighter stripe in the middle. A row of large whitish flecks runs along each flank.
T. petersi is the more colourful and slightly larger of the two species (Rogner). The overall colour of this species is a gingery red, with a line of white flecks along each flank that may join up to form a rough line, and a subdued blue on the sides of the head that may stretch a little further back.
These are heat-loving lizards, living in the hottest and driest part of the island where temperatures are often up to 40 deg C, even in the shade, during the hottest part of the year. Their habitat is mostly covered with a thornbush vegetation. At night both species burrow into loose sand, at least among the dunes, and slowly reappear about an hour before sunrise. Rogner notes that both species have been observed in duneland where they are apparently in competition with each other.
For captive care Rogner recommends keeping the animals in pairs in terraria planted with a deep layer of sand, with some rocks and branches or hollow bark for hiding places and cage furniture, as well as suitably thick-leaved plants (without spines) to replicate the vegetation. Apart from providing a water bowl, the keeper should mist the cage every day in the morning. The temperature gradient should be 25-30 deg C with an additional hot spot. Both species feed on all manner of arthropods. For breeding purposes a cooling period of 2-3 months at 15-20 deg C is recommended, with the cage sprayed twice daily to increase humidity (Rogner): this should stimulate mating behaviour. Any eggs laid thereafter should be removed as they tend to dry out quickly: the young should be raised individually as they are quite aggressive towards one another.
T. petersi Peter's Keeled Plated Lizard SW Madagascar. 6-10"

For bibliography please refer to main Gerrhosauridae page.

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