Sudan Plated Lizard

African Savanna


In the Zoo
1-2 feet
1-2 feet
1 pound
1 pound

Geographic Range

Savanna and steppe areas of eastern and southeastern Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa and to Togo in the west

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Gerrhosaurus major

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Activity Time Frame:
Sexual Dimorphism:
3-4 months
Lifespan in the Wild:
5-10 years
Lifespan in Captivity:
5-10 years




A large stout grayish-brown lizard with transverse bands of squarish, plate-like, keeled scales, that have yellow spots on them. The lower eyelid is covered with small scales and there are rough scales on the head. Scales on the back have pronounced keels and the soles of the feet are covered with slightly keeled scales. The animals are yellow-brown on the upper surface; each scale is often dark-centered, creating a speckled to striped effect. The chin and throat are usually yellow or cream, and the underside is grey to light brown. They have large eyes. The tail is often twice the length of the body. They resemble skinks. Head shields are fused into the skull.

Species Specifics

Sexual Dimorphism. Males are larger than females with bright-colored throats.

Physical Characteristics

To aid in camouflage, they exhibit an overall backdrop of brown with spots, speckles or swirls of varying color. A very spiky tail used to swipe at predators, paired with on open mouth hissing, are there first line of defense. As a result of high concentrations of salt bearing plants, this species has glands in its nostrils used for eliminating extra salt without eliminating water. Can you tell in the picture below which is the Common Chuckwalla and which is the Mali Spiny Lizard (hint: look at the tails)?



Savanna and steppe areas; Lives in burrows; It may dig these itself or use old termite nests. Sometimes will share its home with a dwarf mongoose or a snake. They also live in cracks in small rocky mounds.


Savanna and steppe areas of eastern and southeastern Africa, from Ethiopia to South Africa and to Togo in the west.


Omnivore. Feeds on soft fruits and flowers, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars and millipedes. Will eat smaller lizards as well.

Ecological Web

Plated lizards are an important link in the food chain. They are predators but in turn are preyed upon by many larger reptiles, carnivorous mammals and birds. Humans exploit these animals, hunting them for the pet trade, as they are difficult to breed in captivity and are often wild-caught. They have become a very popular pet.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern


Social Behavior

Large groups of these lizards can often be seen haring a common area in the wild, however they are not a particularly social animal. Such groups are only the result of sharing a site which has good potential for breeding and feeding, and is close to water.

Reproductive Behavior

Female usually lays 2 large eggs in moist soil, but have been known to lay up to 4. The eggs hatch after 3-4 months.


The young are 10-15 cm. (3.9-5.5 inches) at hatching.



Not listed as endangered.


Current Threats

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Fascinating Facts

Known as the African Plated Lizard (Grzimek), Sudanese Plated Lizard (Vivarium), or Rough-Scaled Plated Lizard (Branch's Field Guide). Since Sudan Lizard is the ISIS name of G. major that is being used in zoo records.

They often share their burrow or termite mound with other animals including some snakes.


Branch, Bill. 1988. Bill Branch's Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Ralph Curtis Pub, p. 151.

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.

Martin, Kristi. "Reptiles of Oakland Zoo" talk given January 23, 1999.