Though they may look barren, the dry plains of India, with their rocky outcrops dotted with grasses and scrub, are not devoid of life. This is the habitat favoured by India’s big four venomous snakes and innumerable other creatures. One of the niftiest residents of these scrublands is surely the fan-throated lizard.
Perched high up on a rock or bush the male fan-throated lizard scans his territory. When the time is right, he arches his back and puffs up and displays his dewlap. This is a unique flap on the throat that evolution has given the males of the species, which they flaunt to attract the females. They also puff their throats and demonstrate the dewlap to warn other males off their territory. Fights between males are rarely physical, but when things get too colourful to handle, fan-throated lizards resort to biting and tearing using teeth.
In India, these little reptiles are found mostly in the southern part of the country. Several new species of fan-throated lizard have been discovered in the last decade. These have been classified into two genera Sitana and Sarada. Once on display, Sitanas tend to shake their heads up and down, and Saradas move their heads from left and right,to attract more attention. When danger approaches, these lizards can clock considerable speed and dash away with their tail erect. The lizards are small in size, measuring just 3-5 inches, with a long tail that is another 5 inches. Despite the size, they are unusually bold. Individuals have been observed sleeping in open grounds without much cover.
Though they fall under the “least concerned” category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, fan-throated lizards need protection as they play a significant role in the ecosystem and as environment health indicators. Ambika Kamath, a scientist from Harvard, and Deepak Veerappan, a scientist from Indian Institute of Science, have dedicated a huge part of their lives to studying this lizard. Deepak has discovered many new species and continues to work tirelessly to record and document these flamboyant reptiles.