Giant Plated Lizard

African Savanna


In the Zoo
16-27 inches
16-27 inches
7 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




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

Able to eat mushrooms containing poisonous compounds which are not safe for humans or other animals, perhaps acting as a defense against predation.



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

Like most reptiles, activity is temperature dependent, preferring conditions that are moist, humid, and warm. Ideal temperature is 80-95°F and they are more active during rainy periods and immediately after it has rained. During drought, turtles may spend time in burrows and in excessive heat turtles will seek out shallow pools of water to soak in. In fall months turtles are observed basking in the sunlight for energy. In Northern climates turtles will enter hibernation in late October. In places like Florida, turtles are active year around.


The gecko will lick its eye to clean it from dust and other particles.

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.


Due to a widespread, consistent and persistent decline of the species, the ICUN considers the Box Turtle to be a Vulnerable Species. The decline is associated with anthropogenic causes, or manmade causes centering on urbanization. Agricultural use of pesticides within a shared water shed has negatively impacted young turtle survivability due to malformed eggs. Introduction of synanthopic predator species, (species who live near and benefit mutually from human settlement and urban habitats) such as ravens, coyotes and raccoons, are increasing in numbers as humans continue to urbanize.

Current Threats

Introduced Non-Native, Domestic, and Invasive Species

Our Role

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How You Can Help

Please be aware of the pets you choose to buy. Never get a pet that has been taken from the wild and never return a pet to the wild. Be aware of pesticide applications so as to not poison native animals that benefit your ecosystem. Finally, be conscious of your trash and waste so as to not attract unwanted animals such as ravens.

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