Encounter – Elliot’s Forest Lizard

When motionless, this denizen of the Western Ghats is almost impossible to spot

Can you spot the Elliot’s Forest Lizard?
The nape crest and the markings are diagnostic — look out for this guy the next time you are walking in the Western Ghats

The first time I saw the Elliot’s Forest Lizard (Calotes ellioti) was on my trek to Kodachadri in Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka. I was gazing up at the canopy as usual, when a movement on a tree trunk caught my attention. When the lizard sensed my approach it did what agamid lizards do best – freeze. It relied on its wonderful camouflage for safety and did not move a muscle. This is the lizard’s trick to elude predators. When motionless, this fellow is almost impossible to spot.
Blending in with the tree bark
The Elliot’s Forest Lizard is common in the Western Ghats, where it is an endemic species occurring up to 6000 feet. It belongs to the family of Agamids, which comprises about 300 species found in the world’s warmer regions. The Elliot’s Forest Lizard is identifiable by the distinct crest on the back of the head and neck, the oblique skin fold in front of the shoulders, and an angular black mark on the side of the neck just behind the fold. Breeding males assume a darker coloration. The lizard measures about 10-12 inches from the snout to the tip of its tail.
We were unable to determine if the individual in the first picture (shot on the forest floor in Dandeli) was a female (in moult) or a juvenile. The lizard is not very shy and after “freezing” it tends to stay put. It is known to be very adaptable and, in addition to inhabiting deciduous forests, it may be found in plantations, fragmented patches and evergreen forests.

Text and Photographs by Arun Menon and Sahastrarashmi

Got a soft spot for lizards? You’d love to meet the Kashmir Rock Agama and the amazing Southern Flying Lizard.

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