“The Jungle Dragons of Udawalawe”
Remember how “Danareys Tagarian” flew over “King’s Landing” on the mighty dragon – Drogon burning the city to the ground in the famous GOT series? The roar, the fire, the screams…
What if we say that we have them,“dragons”, living in Sri Lanka?
Well, certainly it will be an exaggeration since our dragons are miniature versions with some major modifications, lol!
They certainly don’t fly and don’t breathe fire but trust me when I say that they have the attitude and a big dragon heart to make up for it ……
Our lizard, the ‘the Jungle Dragon of Sri Lanka’, was spotted by one of our naturalists at the Big Game Camp premises walking through the trees – not flying (that’s a shame, I know) – at Udawalawe one morning while his mate was having a nice breakfast on a termite mound.
The Green Garden Lizard
The Green Garden Lizard (Calotes calotes) or Pala Katussa in Sinhala, is a common lizard common to the lowland plains and mid-hills of Sri Lanka. It is highly arboreal and found in both forest and anthropogenic habitats such as trees, home gardens and open wild spaces; you can see them on the ground as well, especially during the breeding season. This is because all Calotes species lay their eggs in holes dug in the ground.
However, the Green Garden Lizard is rare in northern Sri Lanka and the higher hills. Characteristically, our dragon has a rather long tail and it can be considered as the largest Calotes species in the country.
Feeding mainly on insects and occasionally tender buds and flowers, our Green Garden lizard maintains a rather wholesome diet!
Mesmerising Colour Changes
A wonderful bright green usually with white stripes on the sides, our lizard’s colours may vary in darker shades of green continuing on its tail.
Interestingly, the male develops a striking bright red colouration on the head and throat during the breeding season, while at other times, it is seen in hues of green or a more yellowish green to brown – in both males and females.
This species has been observed to have quite a distinct population in Kachchativu Island – with different colour variations having been recorded.
During the mating season, you will be able to see the males displaying their bright red head, bobbing intently on the highest position in their area to mark the territory and to signal to the females of their availability!
The males get extremely territorial and competitive during this season and so it isn’t surprising to witness many “dragon fights” both in the trees and also on the ground. Quite often, the squirmishes get very nasty – with the loser losing his tail or a few scales!
Lizard Diversity of Sri Lanka
There are 27 species of these Calotes lizards in Sri Lanka with subtle differences that are not easy to identify unless you’re an expert like our Big Game Camp Naturalist. Two of the species are commonly found in home gardens.
Lizard diversity in the island has been documented and studied by many local scientists and researchers. There are 111 lizards known in Sri Lanka with 17 newly discovered in 2006, and two more in 2016 and 2017. Another one was discovered in 2019 in Ensalwatta, Matara.
Geckos have been making an appearance too: between February and December 2019 ten endemic geckos were discovered. As recently as June 2021, a further three gecko species were sighted.This alone justifies the fact of Sri Lanka being recognized as a “Biodiversity HotSpot”.
Oh yes,we are proud.
Ecological Importance of Lizards
“Usually, most people are squeamish when it comes to reptiles. But these “Jungle Dragons” are extremely beneficial to the environment. Apart from adding splashes of colour to the tree canopy they aid in agriculture immensely, by feeding on a wide variety of small insects such as crickets, cockroaches, moths, grubs, beetles, flies and grasshoppers that threaten agriculture. Without these critters those insect populations will go out of control,” says our Big Game naturalist.
Conservation of Lizards in Sri Lanka
Protecting and conserving these animals are of extreme importance. The major threat to lizards comes from the use of chemical fertilizers and other agricultural pesticides, habitat loss and above all – climate change.
Many reptiles are highly sensitive to the altered temperatures that may result from climate change due to their ectothermy. This requires that they rely on ambient environmental temperatures to maintain critical physiological processes.
So our behaviour as humans is of critical importance to ensure the survival of these versatile beauties.
So the next time you see one of these lizards, pay a little more attention and you might get a closer look at the fascinating lives of these “dragons of the jungles”.
What lizards were you able to observe in your home garden?
Let us know – we would love to hear from you.