Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Guatemalan Beaded Lizard

The Guatemalan Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti) is one of the rarest reptiles in the world. Found only in a limited area of seasonally dry forest habitat of the Motagua in southern Guatemala, it is estimated there are less than 500 individuals left in the wild. The 'beaded' refers to the armour-like scales covering their body. They are perfectly designed for living in such challenging conditions.

The only way to safely hold a Beaded Lizard
is from underneath.

These phenomenal lizards are larger versions of their close relatives the better known Gila Monster, which has a wider distribution in the southwest United States down into New Mexico. Like the Gila Monster, the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard is venomous. Although relatively slow moving they can bite with surprising speed, flicking their head back and around with alarming dexterity. When handled they exude the saliva-like venom from their mouths, a thick clear liquid that smells surprisingly pleasant - like sugar and lemon! Although not life threatening the effects of a bite are very unpleasant. Daniel Ariano-Sánchez, a research biologist who has dedicated his career to studying the lizards, has taken a few bites in his time and describes feeling weak and nauseous with non-stop vomiting for about 24-48 hours.

Guatemalan Beaded Lizard

Their diet consists mostly of eggs, including the equally endangered Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana Ctenosaura palearis (also endemic to the region). They are so closely linked that should the iguana population decline, the fate of the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard would follow.

La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City (under the direction of Indigo Expedition's Rowland Griffin) is now working with NGO's and universities to assist with the captive breeding programme, which will eventually allow reintroductions to boost the population. 

Researchers fitting a radio transmitter.

When we visited there were several conservation assistants who helped with the radio tagging in order to track their movements. However, like most projects of this nature, the Heloderma Reserve has been hit particularly hard by the Pandemic with no visitors in 2020 resulting in a reduction of staff to just a few core assistants.  If you feel you could help with the preservation of this amazing animal that's really living on the edge, please consider donating at their GoFundMe page.

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