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Common Agama

Agama agama (aka Rainbow Lizard)


A bright blue body and yellow tail and head characterize the dominant males of this species, while subordinate males, females, and juveniles have an olive green head. Both sexes have a whitish underside, buff brown back limbs, and banded tail. The large head is separated from the body by a well-defined neck and there are well-developed eyelids and ear openings. Males are larger than females, with a maximum length of 10 inches.

dominant male agama
dominant male agama

subordinate male agama
subordinate male agama

Distribution and Habitat

Found in most of sub-Saharan Africa, this lizard can live almost anywhere there is sufficient vegetation for cover and insects for food, including urban and suburban areas.


Although they are primarily insectivorous, agamas will eat small mammals, small reptiles, and vegetation. An ambush predator, the agama sits in vegetation, under a rock outcropping, or in the shade and waits until an insect or small mammal walks by and then chases its prey, which is caught with a sticky-tipped tongue.


Although male agamas are capable of reproducing any time of the year, females can only lay their eggs after the rainy season has ended, when the food supply is at its height.

A dominant male agama will mate with any willing female that comes into his territory. In courtship, he approaches the female from behind and bobs his head at her. If she accepts him the two mate and then separate. If she doesn't, he may continue bobbing his head until he is exhausted. It is not uncommon for a female to initiate courtship by running up to the male and raising her tail in front of him.

Up to twelve eggs are laid in a hole dug by the female. The hole is about two inches deep and is located in sandy damp soil that is exposed to sunlight most of the day and covered by vegetation. The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the embryos, with all becoming males at 29 degrees Celsius and all females at 26-27 degrees. The eggs hatch within eight to ten weeks, and the hatchlings begin eating rocks, sand, plants, and insects almost immediately. The adolescent will remain solitary for the first two months, but by four months will join a gregarious group with a dominant male (cock), several females, and other subordinate adolescent males (sub-males). How agama groups come together in the wild is not known. In order for a subordinate male to gain mating rights he must either establish his own territory or defeat the current dominant male in a fight.

Other Habits and Behaviors

While sunning themselves each morning, the dominant male will claim the most elevated spot, with subordinates in lower areas.

Agamas are generally docile except for dominant males defending their territories from both neighboring dominant males and potential "replacements." The cock will initially try to ward off an intruder via a threat display, which consists of rapid up and down movement of the head with the gular sac (throat sac) fully extended. If the intruder stays then the cock will charge to within two feet, change colors, and threaten again. He will then rush within six inches and side hop with mouth open. The two males will then reverse directions and strike each other with their tails. The back and forth will continue until one of the participants leaves the territory.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Reptilia
order Squamata
suborder Sauria
family Agamidae
genus & species Agama agama

Animal Diversity Web

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The Robinson Library >> Reptiles and Amphibians >> Suborder Sauria

This page was last updated on June 15, 2018.