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Brilliant Agama – a rare gem in Thar’s treasure trove

In some species, like the Brilliant Ground Agama, colours play a part in signalling and reproductive behaviours (All images by Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

“Brilliant. What is its name?” I was looking at a beautiful colourful creature through my viewfinder.

“Brilliant,” said my fellow wildlife photographer Kamal Shansi.  

“I know but what is it called?

“Brilliant …it's Brilliant Agama, keep clicking, it's only found in the desert,” Kamal was busy getting his ‘lifer’- a term used by photographers when they get to shoot rare species. 

The blue headed creature was up on a boulder in the vast Desert National Park in Jaisalmer. We had just spotted this guy and our guide told us that if you try to get down from the vehicle, he will just disappear. 


Oblivious to this, the male agama held its position on top of stone. I was dazzled by the bright blue colour under the sharp sunlight and clicked away furiously at the fastest possible shutter speed. As I focussed on him through the viewfinder I observed a change in his colour – from a sandy, speckled appearance I saw him take on some hues of blue on his body while his tail turned yellow – an ephemeral splash of blue and bright yellow colours of the males … this species of lizards is known as the Brilliant Agama or Brilliant Ground Agama. 

Agama is a type of lizard. There are more than 60 species of agama that are native to Africa, Europe and Asia. In India there are 5 species of agama. 

In some species, like the Brilliant Ground Agama, colours play a part in signalling and reproductive behaviours. This particular specimen belonging to a sub-species is seen in Thar desert of Western Rajasthan and adjacent South-Eastern Pakistan and does “push-ups” or “head bobbing” as a display of strength. This may have two functions – one is to intimidate an intruder and the other is to attract members of the opposite sex. 

They are very flexible animals that can easily adapt to the changes in their environment. Most species of agama live in mountains, rocky steppes and arid areas. Certain species of agama have adapted to life in both rural and urban areas. 

Agamas live in groups and each group has one dominant male. Dominance in the group is accomplished through fights. Dominant male is called "cock". This male enjoys certain privileges: he mates with females and gets the best place for rest. Colour of the agama's body depends on its gender and its position within the group. All females are green or brown. Subordinate males have a body that is brown, Gray, red, blue, or yellow in colour. Dominant male is brightly coloured. It has a blue body with red (or yellow) head. Because of the impressive coloration of the body of the dominant male, these lizards are sometimes called "rainbow lizards".

Agama can survive for a long period of time in the wild. Average lifespan of agama is between 25 and 28 years


The Laungwala toad-headed lizard

The Thar Desert is a wonderland for photographers. Apart from herpes, the austere landscape is nothing short of mesmerising. The hard to spot, expert camouflage, the Laungwala toad-headed agama applies a special type of camouflage called crypsis or cryptic colouration, in which its behaviour and choice of background play key roles. The agama is capable of quite magically burying itself in loose sand with just a few bodily jerks.

The Desert harbours a rich diversity of reptiles, which include 11 lizards and 4 snakes. The lizard species reported are Keeled rock Gecko, Sindh Sand Gecko, Garden Lizard, Brilliant agama, Jaisalmer Toad Agama, Spiny tailed lizard, Indian Sand Fish, Indian fringe toed lizard, Punjab snaked eyed lacerta, Indian monitor Varanus, Desert monitor, etc. The snakes recorded are Sand Boa, Sand snake, saw scaled viper and Red Spotted Royal Snake.


The saw-scaled viper

In the deserts of Rajasthan, locals talk about a snake called “Peeuna” that kills victims in their sleep by sucking their breath out. It struck in the night and envenomed victims through their breath. Our guide told us that they were talking about Saw scaled viper, one of the fastest striking and “deadly” snakes of India. 

We “encountered” one of the four venomous snakes of the plant. It got alerted when he saw us. The saw-scaled viper’s scales are rough and heavily keeled, so when they are rubbed together, they make a really menacing rasping sound of “working of a saw” when threatened. Every now and then the snake’s head would shoot out, as though attacking its predator. I got the message.

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