Steppe agama (lat. Trapelus sanguinolentus) — lizard of the Agamidae family, genus of the steppe agamas.
The total length of steppe agama does not exceed 30 cm, with the length of the trunk and head up to 12 cm, the tail is 1.3-2 times longer than the body. Body weight up to 45 g (according to other data up to 62 g).
In the Ciscaucasia, the agamas are smaller in comparison with the Middle Asian ones: their body length is up to 8.5 cm, weight is up to 27 g. Adult males are noticeably longer than females, they have preanal corns.
Upper head shields are slightly convex, non-articulate. The occipital plate, on which the parietal eye is located, is the same size as the surrounding scutes. The nostrils are in the back of the nasal flaps and are almost invisible from above. There are around 15-19 upper-lip scutes . A small outer ear aperture is well expressed, in the depth of which the tympanic membrane is located. Above it are 2-5 elongated prickly scales.
The scales of the trunk are homogeneous (the steppe agama differs from the closely related ruinous agama), rhomboid, ribbed, only on the throat is smooth, dorsal coarse, with sharp spines, the caudal rows are oblique rows and do not form transverse rings.
The coloring of young agamas from above is light gray with a row of light gray more or less oval spots extending along the base of the tail along the ridge and two rows of similarly elongated spots on the sides of the trunk. Between the spots of adjacent rows there are larger dark brown or dark gray spots. On the upper side of the legs and on the tail there are blurred darker transverse bands.
With the onset of maturity, the color changes and adult lizards become gray or yellowish-gray in color. In males, dark spots almost completely disappear and light gray darkens, the females generally retain the juvenile coloring.
With increasing temperature, as well as in an excited state, the color of adults agam changes and becomes very bright. In this case, there is an obvious sexual dimorphism in color.
In males, the throat, belly, sides and limbs become dark or even black-blue, cobalt-blue spots appear on the back, and the tail acquires a bright yellow or orange-yellow color. The females become bluish or greenish-yellow, dark spots on the back are orange or rusty orange and the legs and tail acquire the same color as males, though less brightly colored. However, in agama from Ciscaucasia the above-described color differences is inexistent between the sexes.
Distribution and habitat
The steppe agama is widespread in the deserts and semi-deserts of the Eastern Ciscaucasia (Russia), Southern Kazakhstan, Central Asia, North and North-East Iran, Northern Afghanistan, Northwest China.
In Central Asia, the northern boundary of the range extends from the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea slightly to the south of the Emba River, passes around the Mugodzhar mountains from the south, and through the lower reaches of the Turgai River and the valley of the middle reaches of the Sarysu River descends to the northern coast of Lake Balkhash, reaching further to the foothills of Tarbagatai.
Along the river valleys it goes into the foothills of the Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai, meeting in the vicinity of the cities of Osh in Kyrgyzstan and Chubak in South-West Tajikistan. Dwells in sandy, argillaceous and stony deserts and semi-deserts, preferring places with shrubby or semi-woody vegetation.
It also appears on gentle stony slopes in the foothills (in Kopetdag it is known to dwell up to an altitude of 1200 m above sea level), along margins of loosely anchored sands, along river banks and in the tugai forests, often in close proximity to water, near populated areas and along roadsides.
In the Asian part of the range, the steppe agama belongs to the most common lizards of steppes and deserts, its average number is about 10 individuals/ha, in spring in gerbil colonies up to 60.
In the Eastern Ciscaucasia, the range of this species is very small and constantly shrinking, the number is low, which is due to the rather severe climatic conditions for the steppes and intensive anthropogenic impact.
After hibernating, the steppe agamas appear in mid-February-early April, depending on the area of distribution, males leave winter shelters earlier than females. They start hibernating for winter at the end of October.
In spring and autumn, lizards are active in the middle of the day, in the summer in the morning and in the evening. The periods of maximum activity of adults and young individuals do not usually coincide.
Dexterously climbing trunks and branches, agamas often climb branches of bushes, protecting themselves from overheating on hot sand during the hot time of the day and escaping from enemies, males survey their site, protecting it from the invasion of other males. In the eastern Karakum they sometimes even spend the night on the bushes.
They are capable of jumping from branch to branch to a distance of up to 80 cm. Agamas run very fast on the ground, keeping the body raised on elongated legs and their tails does not touch the earth. In villages, they can be seen running on vertical surfaces of adobe and stone fences and walls of buildings.
The steppe agamas use the burrows of gerbils, jerboas, ground squirrels, hedgehogs, turtles, hollows under stones and cracks in the ground as shelter. Less often, they dig out their own holes, located between the roots or at the base of stones.
Each adult lizard has a relatively small area of habitat, beyond which it rarely wanders. Demonstration behavior includes squats combined with rhythmic nods.
The steppe agama feeds mainly on various insects, mainly beetles and ants, as well as spiders, centipedes, mochrits and juicy plant parts, in particular flowers, leaves and stems. The lizards adroitly grasp the insects with a sticky tongue.