Sungazer

Sungazer

[ Cordylus giganteus ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: up to 15 ½ inches
WILD DIET: insects and small vertebrates
ZOO DIET: mealworms, waxworms, crickets with earthworms and small pinky mice as treats.
DISTRIBUTION: South Africa
HABITAT: grasslands and deserts

 

Here comes the sungazer

Home is where the burrow is
Closely related to skinks, sungazers live in social colonies of up to 40 individual lizards. They spend a good deal of time in or near their burrow, which the entrance always faces north or northwest. In fact, the name sungazer comes from this reptile’s habit of sitting outside the entrance of their burrow and facing the sun.
 
Heads or tails?
Also known as spiny-tailed lizards, sungazers rely on spiked heads and tails for more than just looking ferocious. To escape predators, this crafty reptile darts inside its burrow, expands its body by inhaling air, and uses the spikes on the head as anchors. This makes it nearly impossible for a hungry predator to pull the sungazer from its burrow. If this wasn’t enough of a deterrent, sungazers leave their spiked tail outside of the burrow, thrashing it back and forth.
 
Not so mini baby
Unlike many reptiles, sungazers are ovoviviparous, which means the female hatches the eggs inside her body and gives birth to live young. Female sungazers only give birth every 2 to 3 years to one large baby, which is only slightly smaller than their parent. This large size gives the youngster the greatest chance or survival.
 
A rare, yet important reptile.
In the past, regions in south Africa considered the sungazer to be the national symbol and this reptile’s image has adorned postage stamps and conservation posters. Unfortunately, today sungazers are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
 
Sungazers at Brookfield Zoo
The sungazers can only been seen in Feathers and Scales, which is home to three females and one male. The group spends most of their time inside their burrows, only venturing out to eat or explore a different burrow. If you’re lucky, you may see one of the sungazers digging a new burrow within its exhibit!
 

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society