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  Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2017
   

 

   

 

 

Lizards & Crocodilians of  Southeast Asia
 

From the tiniest of geckos inhabiting people's houses to huge monitor lizards of up to 3 metres, Southeast Asia's lizards have evolved to fill an amazing range of ecological niches. The shapes, colours and mode of life of the region's lizards is diverse in the extreme. New species are constantly being discovered, particularly in the biodiversity hotspot which is the island of Borneo.

The most remarkable of the region's lizards are the gliding lizards (or 'flying dragons') of the genus Draco. These highly evolved agamids possess a winged structure (the patagium) which allows them to glide long distances from tree to tree. The most diverse group of lizards are the smooth-bodied skinks : often overlooked, these elusive animals are masters at quietly disappearing from view.

The examples shown here give a snapshot introduction to the complex world of Southeast Asia's lizards ...

 
 


Crested Lizards  (Agamidae)   This large family of lizards have a generally spiky appearance, with sharp spines behind the neck, along the back and near the eyes. They are often brightly coloured, have long tails and bear sharp teeth. They are diurnal, and mainly arboreal, and the group includes the Gliding Lizards. Worldwide there are around 500 species, with over 70 occurring in Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 

                 
       
Peninsular Horned Tree Lizard
Acanthosaura armata 
 
Titiwangsa Horned Tree Lizard
Acanthosaura titiwangsaensis 
 
 Earless Agamid
 Aphaniotis fusca
 
  Ornate Earless Agama
Aphaniotis ornata
 
  Green Crested Lizard
Bronchocela cristatella
 
       
Maned Forest Lizard
Bronchocela jubata
  Forest Crested Lizard
Calotes emma 
  Changeable Lizard
Calotes versicolor 
  Borneo Anglehead Lizard
Gonocephalus borneensis  
  Chameleon Anglehead Lizard  G. chamaeleontinus
                 
               
Great Anglehead Lizard
Gonocephalus grandis   
               
                 


Gliding Lizards  (Agamidae, Genus : Draco)   Also known as 'Flying Dragons', these lizards possess a gliding structure, or patagium, attached to specialised ribs which can be extended away from the body. They cling to tree trunks, where they feed on ants, and may be glimpsed gliding many metres to another tree. They also have a brightly coloured dewlap, or gular flag, beneath the neck which is extended for display purposes.  There are more than 40 species, the majority occurring in Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 

                 
       
Orange-bearded Gliding Lizard
Draco abbreviatus
 
Blanford's Gliding Lizard
Draco blanfordii
 
  Boschma's Gliding Lizard
Draco boschmai
 
  Formosa Gliding Lizard
Draco formosus
 
  Red-barbed Gliding Lizard
Draco haematopogon 
 
       
Spotted Gliding Lizard
Draco maculatus
 
Black-bearded Gliding Lizard
Draco melanopogon 
 
5-banded Gliding Lizard
Draco quinquefasciatus 
 
Sulawesi Lined Gliding Lizard
Draco spilonotus   
 
Sumatran Gliding Lizard
Draco sumatranus 
 
             
Barred Gliding Lizard
Draco taeniopterus
 
Common Gliding Lizard
Draco volans 
 
 
 

 

 


Butterfly Lizards  (Leiolepididae)   This small family comprises 8, possibly 9, species which all occur in Southeast Asia. Around half of the species are parthenogenic, meaning an all-female species which reproduces by cloning without the need of a male. These are diurnal, sun-loving, terrestrial lizards which live in burrows in loose, sandy soil. Males have brightly coloured flanks with complex patterning.  Examples :
 

                 
             
Common Butterfly Lizard
Leiolepis belliana
 
  Malayan Butterfly Lizard
Leiolepis triploida   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Geckos  (Gekkonidae)   Globally there are well over 1000 species of gecko. They are mainly arboreal, nocturnal forest dwellers, with a wide range of ecological niches and modes of life. Many are highly camouflaged, cryptic forms.  Their evolutionary success in Southeast Asia is largely based on their ability to grip vertical (or even inverted) surfaces with highly evolved foot pads or sharp claws. Some forms have adapted to urban life, and eke a living feeding on insects attracted to artificial lighting.
 

 
CNEMASPIS geckos, or Rock Geckos, are a distinctive group characterised by having round pupils, elongated snouts, and long digits with sharp claws with which to grip the surface of rocks and sometimes trees. They prefer shaded habitats. Globally, over 100 species are recognised with around 40 or so in Southeast Asia, many of which have limited distribution on isolated hills.  Examples :
 
             
Peninsular Rock Gecko
Cnemaspis peninsularis
 
  Tioman Round-eyed Gecko
Cnemaspis limi
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CYRTODACTYLUS geckos, or Bent-toed Geckos, have slender, inflected digits. In the field the genus may be identified by their body size, large head and large eyes with vertical pupils. They mainly occur in forest, and are typically found on tree trunks. More than 150 species are currently described, and the rate of discovery of new species is high.  Examples :
 
Cyrtodactylus pulchellus group :
  
           
S. Titiwangsa Bent-toed Gecko 
C. australotitiwangsaensis
 
Langkawi Is. Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus langkawiensis
 
Lekagul's Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus lekaguli
 
   
Other Cyrtodactylus :
  
       
Kinabalu Angle-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus baluensis 
 
Peters' Forest Gecko
Cyrtodactylus consobrinus
   
D'armandville's Gecko
Cyrtodactylus darmandvillei
 
Singapore Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus majulah
 
Panti Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus pantiensis
   
       
Marbled Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus quadrivirgatus 
 
Peninsular Bent-toed Gecko
C. semenanjungensis   
   
  Tioman Bent-toed Gecko
Cyrtodactylus tiomanensis   
   
Yoshi's Bow-fingered Gecko
Cyrtodactylus yoshii   
 
  Cyrtodactylus sp. (Bali)
Cyrtodactylus sp.        
 
GEHYRA geckos, or Four-clawed Geckos, are so-called as the inner digit on all four feet lacks an obvious claw (however, this is not unique to Gehyra). Their eyes are relatively large with vertical pupils, and they typically have loose skin. Globally around 40 are described, with around 10 or so occurring in Southeast Asia. Many are found near human habitation.  Examples :
 
             
Four-clawed Gecko
Gehyra mutilata
 
  Pacific Dtella
Gehyra oceanica
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
GEKKO - 'Large Geckos'. Globally more than 50 species are described in this genus, of which more than 30 occur within Southeast Asia. Some reach a huge size, including the Large Forest Gecko and the Tokay - the latter may occur in human dwellings. They have robust bodies, large and sometimes huge eyes with vertical pupils.  Some make loud calls which can be heard from a great distance.  Examples :
 
         
Tokay Gecko
Gekko gecko  
 
  Spotted House Gecko
Gekko monarchus
   
  Palmated  Gecko
Gekko palmatus
 
  Large Forest  Gecko
Gekko smithi
 
   
HEMIDACTYLUS geckos, or 'House Geckos', are a large group of lizards with similar microscopic structure of the feet and toes. The group includes many species which have adapted to human dwellings, but many more which are true forest dwellers. Some species are able vocalise quite loudly. As of 2015, more than 130 species have been described, with many forms occurring in Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 
         
Frilly Gecko
Hemidactylus craspedotus
 
  Spiny-tailed Gecko
Hemidactylus frenatus
  
Garnot's House Gecko
Hemidactylus garnotii
  
Flat-tailed Gecko
Hemidactylus platyurus
 
 
HEMIPHYLLODACTYLUS - Slender Geckos. There are around 25 or so species in this group, which are grouped together on the basis of the structure of the feet and digits. All have elongate, slender bodies, relatively short tails and widely splayed toes. They are nocturnal, arboreal, forest dwellers but may be found on man-made structures near forest.  Examples :
 
             
Lowland Dwarf Gecko
Hemiphyllodactylus typus
  
Titiwangsa Slender Gecko
H. titiwangsaensis
 
   
LEPIDODACTYLUS - Scaly-toed Geckos. This group of around 30 or so geckos is grouped together on the basis of the structure of feet and digits. They are typically small in size, and plain in character. Some occur only in forest, whilst others have adapted to human dwellings. Around 10 or so species occur in Southeast Asia, often on islands or in coastal habitats.  Examples :
 
               
Maritime Gecko
Lepidodactylus lugubris  
  

 
     
PYCHOZOON geckos, or Gliding Geckos, have evolved webbed feet, skin flaps along the flanks and highly modified tails which allow them to glide between trees. They are mainly nocturnal, but may be spotted by day clinging to tree trunks. Some species are to be found on buildings adjacent to forest. There are 8 species described, of which 7 occur within Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 
             
Kuhl's Gliding Gecko Ptychozoon kuhli
 
Smooth-backed Gliding Gecko Ptychozoon lionotum
 
     


Skinks  (Scincomorpha)   Globally there are over 1500 species of lizard broadly regarded as 'skinks', which is the largest of any lizard group. Skinks have evolved to fill a huge range of ecological niches, however in Southeast Asia most are terrestrial, and a few are expert tree climbers. Skinks typically have smooth, slender bodies, long tails and short limbs : in some species evolution has resulted in the loss of limbs entirely.
 

                 
DASIA skinks, or Tree Skinks, are a small group of arboreal lizards of which 9 species are recognised, 5 of which occur within Southeast Asia. These are diurnal, arboreal lizards, typically seen on tree trunks. Their body is robust, and typically bears either  stripes running parallel to the body, or bars running across the body. Their limbs are thick, and their dorsal scales are keeled, which gives a matt appearance. The tail is around the same length as the head and body.  Examples :
  
       
Striped Tree Skink
Dasia vittatum
 
  Brown Tree Skink
Dasia grisea 
 
  Olive Tree Skink
Dasia olivacea   
 
       
The genus EMOIA includes around 80 species of skink which are particularly diverse on the island of New Guinea where many undescribed species occur. They are diurnal and mainly terrestrial in habits, and are rather shy and fast-moving. Only one species occurs on mainland Southeast Asia, the Mangrove Skink. Examples :
  
             
Mangrove Skink
Emoia atrocostata
 
  Copper-tailed Skink
Emoia cyanura
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EUGONGYLUS skinks are known as mastiff skinks, sheen skinks or short-legged giant skinks. These are long, muscular lizards which move in a sinuous motion. They are terrestrial, and are most commonly seen at dusk, being somewhat nocturnal in habits. There are just 6 species, of which 3 occur in eastern parts of Southeast Asia.  Examples :
  
               
Bar-lipped Sheen Skink
Eugongylus rufescens
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EUTROPIS skinks, or Sun Skinks, comprise around 30 or so species of which around half occur in Southeast Asia. These are diurnal, terrestrial skinks which forage amongst leaf litter, or bask on fallen trees, rocks or in patches of sunlight on the forest floor. Their bodies are robust and flattened, and their dorsal scales are strongly keeled which gives them a matt appearance. Many species have pale stripes along the upper part of the flanks.  Examples :
 
       
Long-tailed Sun Skink
Eutropis longicaudata
   
  Speckled Forest Skink
Eutropis macularia
 
  Many-lined Sun Skink
Eutropis multifasciata
 
  Rough-scaled Brown Skink
Eutropis rudis
 
  Rough-scaled Sun Skink
Eutropis rugifera
 
There are just 4 species of LAMPROLEPIS skink, all of which occur in Southeast Asia. This genus includes the stunning, bright green Emerald Skink which occurs in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. These are diurnal, arboreal lizards with a robust body and pointed snout. Their scales are smooth and glossy, their tails are long - at least 1.5 times head-body length, and their limbs are relatively short.  Examples :
 
               
Emerald Skink
Lamprolepis smaragdina
 
         
LARUTIA skinks (Larut Skinks) are elongated, snake-like lizards, with tiny, reduced or absent limbs. As of 2015, eight species have been identified, of which 5 are endemic to Peninsular Malaysia, and 1 each in Thailand, Borneo and Sumatra. They are secretive, leaf-litter dwellers and are rarely seen. Examples :
 
               
Three-banded Larut Skink
Larutia trifasciata
 
 
 
           
LIPINIA skinks, or Striped Skinks, are slender, small skinks with smooth, shiny scales, narrow bodies and thin legs. They are terrestrial or arboreal and are secretive in habits. Some species are striped, and others plain coloured. Around 30 species are recognised, the majority of which occur in Southeast Asia and New Guinea.  Examples :
 
             
Moth Skink
Lipinia noctua
 
  Yellow Striped Tree Skink
Lipinia vittigera
 
           
LYGOSOMA skinks, or Supple Skinks, are small, slender skinks which move in a sinuous, snake-like motion. Their legs and feet are very small. They are terrestrial. and secretive in habits, spending their time foraging amongst leaf litter. Around 30 to 40 species are recognised, of which more than half occur in Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 
             
Bowring's Supple Skink
Lygosoma bowringii  
 
  Supple Skink (Krabi)
Lygosoma sp. 
 
     
SCINCELLA skinks, or Ground Skinks, are small, skinks, with relatively long tails, fairly thick bodies, and short slender limbs. They are terrestrial in habits and appear less shy than other ground-dwelling skinks. More than 30 species have been described, of which less than half occur in Southeast Asia.  Examples :
 
               
Ground Skink (Cambodia)
Scincella sp. 
 
               
SPHENOMORPHUS is a widespread and diverse genus of skink with around 150 species currently recognised, of which perhaps 50 or so occur in Southeast Asia, with many more species on the island of New Guinea. Their body shape is rather thickset, with relatively slender legs. They have adapted to a range of ecological niches, including forest floor, tree trunks, swamp forest etc.  Examples :
 
       
Blue-throated Litter Skink
Sphenomorphus cyanolaemus
 
Streamside Skink
Sphenomorphus maculatus
 
Lesser Sunda Dark-throated Skink    S. melanopogon
 
Blotched Forest Skink
Sphenomorphus praesignis 
 
Sabah Slender Skink
Sphenomorphus sabanus 
 
             
Spotted Forest Skink
Sphenomorphus scotophilus
 
'Flores Banded Skink'
Sphenomorphus striolatus 
 
     

 
   
TYTTHOSCINCUS is a group of small, leaf litter-dwelling skinks, some which are swamp specialists. These shy, elusive lizards, are rarely noticed : when disturbed they sometimes seek escape by swimming across small streams and partly submerging themselves. They are closely related to Sphenomorphus skinks and, as of 2016, there are 17 species recognised. Examples :
 
             
'Sulawesi Forest Skink'
Tytthoscincus sp.   
 
Swamp Skink (Singapore)
Tytthoscincus cf. sibuensis 
 
    
 
 
 
   


Monitor Lizards  (Varanidae)   These are large, muscular predators with strong jaws, sharp teeth and a long forked tongue, which they use to taste the air when searching for prey. Many swim well, and nearly all can climb trees. Worldwide there are more than 70 species, of which 5 occur on mainland Southeast Asia and a further 25 or more on islands in the Philippines and eastern Indonesia. The group includes the Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard in the world.  Examples :
 

                 
         
Komodo Dragon
Varanus komodoensis
 
  Clouded Monitor
Varanus nebulosus
 
  Rough-necked Monitor
Varanus rudicollis
 
  Malayan Water Monitor
Varanus salvator  
 
 
 


Crocodiles and relatives  (Crocodilia)  These are huge, lizard-like reptiles of which 24 species are recognised worldwide. Within Southeast Asia 5 or 6 species are present including the Gharial, False Gharial, Siamese Crocodile, Philippine Crocodile, Estuarine (or Saltwater) Crocodile and, further east, the New Guinea Crocodile.  Examples :
 

                 
               
Estuarine Crocodile
Crocodylus porosus
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

  See also ... Lizards of Papua New Guinea