Giant Plated Lizard

African Savanna

Location in Zoo

African Savanna
16-27 inches
16-27 inches

2-5 years
2-5 years

Geographic Range

South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, (with one subspecies in Namibia and southern Angola).

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Gerrhosaurus validus

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Activity Time Frame:
Sexual Dimorphism:
3-4 months
Lifespan in the Wild:
8-17 years
Lifespan in Captivity:
8-17 years


Least Concerned


A large lizard with a flattened head and body. The dorsal scales are small with many ridges which give the back edges a serrated appearance. Its lower eyelid is covered with small scales. There are black rubber-like balls on the soles of their feet. The back is dark brown to black, with each head shield and dorsal scale spotted yellow, giving a speckled appearance. A pair of broad dorsolateral stripes is sometimes present. The throat is dirty white, and the belly is light brown. In breeding season the chin, throat and sides of the head of the males become tinged with pink-purple.

Species Specifics

Sexual Dimorphism. Females are slightly smaller than males, not only in length but also body girth, and they are not quite as stocky.

Physical Characteristics



Terrestrial. Weathered, rocky knolls. This lizard prefers temperatures ranging from 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit and uses burrows and termite mounds to avoid the sun.


The Plated Lizard is widely distributed in eastern and southeastern Africa. The majority of the population may be found in eastern and southeastern Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa in the savanna and steppe areas of the sub-Saharan. It is a terrestrial, ground-dwelling lizard and lives in the semi-arid steppe areas, or flat parts of Africa. Although this plated lizard can sometimes be found in warmer, humid climates, they have not been known to enter rainforests.


Feeds on a mixed diet composed largely of leaves, flowers and fruit; it also captures insects, spiders, millipedes, scorpions and smaller lizards.

Ecological Web

Giant Plated Lizards are important components of the food webs in most ecosystems where they occur. They play a critical role both as predator and prey. They can also help in seed dispersal and can be useful to people as they help to control the number of insects in some areas.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern


Social Behavior

It is considered a shy animal, though males will sometimes attack one another for territory protection.

Reproductive Behavior


The female usually lays four large, oval eggs with leathery shells in soil-filled cracks in the rock in midsummer, after an incubation period of 3-4 months.



The Giant Plated Lizard is widespread and generally common and therefore it was not considered to be threatened and no conservation actions were recommended in a recent assessment of reptiles found in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.


Current Threats

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Fascinating Facts

Plated lizards are covered in large scales called osteoderms, scales that have bone in them.

Plated lizards also have huge ears compared to most reptiles.

There are 6 species of Plated lizards occurring in the African savannah.

Of all the Gerrhosaururidae lizards (Plated lizards) they are the most armored.

The genus name is partly derived from the Ndebele word matobo meaning 'bold heads' in reference to the smooth surface of granite hills found in the Matobo (Matopo) Hills area in southern Zimbabwe where the species is common. The last part of the genus name 'saurus' is the Latin translation for the word 'lizard.' The name 'plated lizard' comes from the bony plates found underneath the epidermis that encase the body in a bony body armor.


Kaplan, Melissa. 2014. "Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Plated Lizards." (Online). Accessed February 24 at

Branch, Bill. 1988. Bill Branch's Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Ralph Curtis Pub, p.153.

Grzimek, Bernhard. 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia Vol. 6. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, New York City, NY, pp. 271-2.

Kirkpatrick, David. 1993. "Plated Lizards of the Genus Gerrhosaurus: An Alternative to Iguanas" originally in HerpTales, September, Internet.

Donovan, Paul. "Care for the Challenging Giant Plated Lizard." 2017. Reptiles Magazine, Lumina Media. (Online). Accessed February 24 at