A ‘bloodsucker’ in your backyard

How many of us realise that they might be a bloodsucker at large in our gardens? Don’t panic, this is just our Common Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor) which most of us mistakenly call ‘chameleon’. During the breeding season the head, shoulders and parts of the foreleg of the males turns bright scarlet and this is how they have acquired this rather ‘derogatory’ name – Bloodsucker. The Chameleon is a totally different species, well-known for its ability to change colour to match its surroundings.

The Common Garden Lizard. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa

The Common Garden Lizard is the most common Agamid lizard in India. An Agamid is a family or group of lizards. The Agamids can be differentiated from other lizards by their teeth. In general appearance the Agamids bear a close resemblance to the Iguana.

The Bloodsucker or Common Garden Lizard is widely distributed from the dry deserts to thick forests. In cities like Bangalore, it is found in gardens, hedges and scrub. I see one quite regularly from my verandah which overlooks a small patch of garden.

It is arboreal and diurnal in nature, which means that it has evolved to move on trees and is active during the day time. Not surprisingly it is an agile climber and can move with speed and dexterity when required. Most of the time we fail to notice it as it is a past master at making itself inconspicuous. It manages to do so by remaining immobile. Its colouration also helps it in blending into the background. When noticed it has a tendency to slide to the back of the branch on which it is sitting.

Males • They can grow up to a length of 490 mm
• They are territorial and maintain individual territories
• Commonly found in an elevated position from where it can see its territory and also be seen by any intruder
• They perform press-ups and nod their heads as a form of display, to both threaten rival males and impress females
• Very often the display is not enough to scare away a rival male. Then a brief but intense scuffle takes place. Both males stand on their hind legs and bite and wrestle each other till the loser turns and runs. The victor then proceeds to chase him out of his territory

Females

• They are considerably smaller than the males
• Lays soft-shelled eggs in holes in flower beds and other soft soil areas
• She digs these holes using only her forelimbs
• Each hole is approximately 8 to 10 centimetres deep. They are covered by scraping soil with the forelimbs and pressing it down with the snout. They are indistinguishable from the surroundings
• The eggs, each clutch numbering 11 to 23, are left in these holes to incubate
• The period of incubation is dependent on temperature and can vary between 30 to 50 days

The Bloodsucker is a great help in maintaining the health of your garden plants as it feeds mainly on insects and thus keeps the pest population under control. Ants are another favorite and together with other insects form a majority of its diet. Occasionally it breaks the monotony of its diet by taking small birds, nestlings, frogs and other small animals. Studies have shown that it sometimes resorts to cannibalism, though such behaviour is quite rare.

The next time you pass a garden, do stop to take a good look at the various branches and stalks, glance up at any wall or branch and you just might come face to face with the Bloodsucker and don’t be afraid as he is harmless unless, of course, you happen to be a rival male!

About Vikram Nanjappa 15 Articles
Vikram Nanjappa is a Bangalore-based freelance naturalist,writer and wildlife photographer..

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the info on these common animals, which village boys sometimes string up and torture, without realizing what they are doing.

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