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Why Does the Armadillo Girdled Lizard Bite its Tail?

If you have stumbled across the Armadillo girdled lizard before, you have probably heard people talking about it biting its own tail, while they scratch their head with confusion. But why does this happen?

Why does the Armadillo girdled lizard bite its own tail? It bites its own tail as a clever defensive technique. It rolls itself into a tight ball, grabs its tail in its mouth and in the process creates a very effective defensive shield.

The great thing is, any predators that are considering attacking the Armadillo Lizard at this point will probably think twice. The reality is when they are wrapped up in this way, they are very hard to attack and most Predators will give up a move onto easier prey. Keep reading, because I will reveal what other tricks they have and more…

What is the Armadillo girdled lizard?

lizard that bites its tail

You may be wondering what exactly is the Armadillo girdled lizard. For that reason, in this section, I’m going to explain exactly what they are,  other nicknames that they have and more…

You may notice by the picture it looks similar to the Armadillo, with its protective shell and skin. Hence the reason why it is named this.

According to Wikipedia, It is also known as:

  • Ouroborus cataphractus (Scientific name)
  • Armadillo Lizard
  • Golden-armadillo lizard
  • or armadillo spiny-tailed lizard

Formerly it was part of the Cordylidae genus. However since 2011, it has been moved to its own genus.

What do these lizards look like & how big are they?

Now that you know a little bit more about them you may be wondering what they look like, how big they are, etc. For that reason, in this section, I will give you a brief description of what they look like.

Coloration and Size

They are typically a brownish color that helps them in their natural habitat. As for size, they usually are anything from 3.5 inches ranging up to 5 inches in length.

At a glance, they look like little dragons or a spitting image of an armadillo.

Do people keep them at Pets?

Yes, they are kept as pets. However, they are illegal in certain countries such as South Africa. This is mainly due to the fact that back in 1996 they were endangered and classed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN.  Since then they have recovered slightly and then now moved to a “Least Concern” status.

The endangered status back in 1996 was rumored to be due to illegal trafficking, which still happens to this day.

They are attractive to lizard keepers because they are relatively easy to look after. And, getting food for them is not usually a problem.

Also, they are easily captured in the wild because they roam around in large groups and are very slow-moving lizards.

Another reason for their demand is cosmetically speaking they look quite attractive and some people compare them to little Dragons.

Other rumors blame their food source (termites) being linked to their reduction in population. Due to environmental issues that impacted the termite numbers.

What other defensive tricks does the Armadillo Griddled Lizard have?

Earlier we talked about them biting their own tail and rolling up into a ball as a clever technique to protect themselves. However, I’m now going to reveal another trick that they have up their sleeves which also helps them to get away from their ensuing predators.

One Of their tricks is dropping their tail. This is common across a number of different lizard species (How Many Times Can A Lizard Regrow Its Tail? Click here to see) and a great trick which they have in their Arsenal as well.

Their Tail dropping trick

If they feel that they are under attack their tail will drop. During this time the tail will continue to wiggle aggressively which helps them in two ways.

Firstly, it draws attention to the wriggling tail, which will hopefully give them enough time to escape from the pursuing predator. Also, this wriggling tale is now a potential meal for the Predator to keep them satisfied.

Alpha male tactics!

Like a lot of lizards, the male species of the Armadillo girdled lizard is particularly aggressive and territorial.

You may also notice, especially during mating season, they are likely to increase their aggressiveness. This is mandatory for them to win and mate successfully during this time.

Weird living conditions.

You may be wondering where these lizards actually live and what is their preferred living environment. This is one of the things I love about this particular lizard species. They are known to be social lizards.

If you have studied lizards in any capacity you will agree with me that this is quite a weird, or shall I say rare commodity.

These griddled Armadillo lizards typically roam around in large groups of up to 60 lizards. They move around quite slowly and shared their living space, which is typically crevices in rocks in their natural habitat.

Rival Groups

You may also be assuming that this group is segregated and may even cause arguments or fighting with other passing rival groups…

However, in reality, this is not the case. You will find that group members interchangeably move from one group to another without any hassle or fighting. In fact, it is quite the norm.

Are these lizards dangerous?

No. These lizards are not dangerous. In fact, they are quite slow-moving and would typically prefer to run away rather than confronting potential predators or even a passing animal.

Do they lay eggs?

You may be wondering about their breeding habits, and in particular, if they lay eggs or not. For this reason, in this section, I’m going to explain their breeding behaviors.

The Armadillo girdled lizard is quite a rare lizard. I mean in the fact that she actually births live young. It doesn’t lay eggs.

The expected number of offspring

For each clutch, you can expect to see anywhere from 2 to 4 live lizards born at a time. If you have studied lizards before you will probably expect the lizard to give birth to these babies and walk away and leave them to fend for themselves, right?


The Armadillo girdled lizard is different in this department as well. In fact, females are often seen feeding their young similar to a human mother. Which is quite unusual but refreshing to see.

Related questions:

In this section I will answer some questions related to the Armidilo Gridled Lizard, if you have additional questions please feel free to drop a comment below.

Q: Why do lizards bite each other’s tails?

This is usually a show of dominance. Earlier I talked about the griddled lizard having a unique defensive style by rolling up into a ball and biting it’s tail, right?

However, other lizards have weird behavior such as biting each other’s tails. This is usually due to the fact that the male lizards are quite territorial. And, will always want to claim dominance in an enclosure.

This is even more prevalent in the domesticated market because they are restricted to a very small enclosure. This intensifies their need to prove who is the dominant one. Especially if they are females in the enclosure as well.

Q: Do lizards eat their tails?

Earlier I discussed how lizards have a defensive technique where they drop their tails. This is also connected to this question. Why?

Because in the event that they drop their tail and a Predator decides not to eat it. The lizard will return back to the spot and rather than trying to keep it, it will actually devour its tail.

This may seem weird to you but this is expected behavior in the lizard’s world.

Q: How is a Lizard’s tail so special?

The Lizard’s tail is special because it has two key things that it does for it. Firstly it improves their mobility and stability as they move around.

And by now you probably understand the importance of their tail as a defensive mechanism for them. Especially with lizards like the Armadillo girdled lizard who will happily drop their tail and run for the hills if needed.

Or, failing that roll up into a tight ball and use their tail as a protective shield.


Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.