Yellow-spotted Night Lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum)
Every living thing on this planet possesses a drive to reproduce. To further their species by passing genetics on to a new generation and ensuring the survival of the species. To accomplish this, many different organisms developed unique reproductive behaviors. For the majority of vertebrate animals this means male and female specimens coming together and each providing their own piece of the reproductive puzzle. But for a small number of lizard species having both genders is purely optional. Today we will be examining one such species of fascinating reptiles.
Night lizards belong to the family Xantusiidae, this primitive group of lizards have long been studied due to their uncertain relationship to teiids, lacertids, skinks, and possibly geckos. Physically, they resemble teiids and lacertids, with a similar body structure, wide heads with broad scales and powerful mandibular muscles. Unlike these other lizards, night lizards lack a eyelid and instead rely on a transparent scale called a brille, similar to snakes and some geckos. This spectacle protects the eye from injury and prevents desiccation of tissue.
Members of the family Xantusiidae are strictly new world, with three genera existing from the Southwestern U.S., south through Mexico and Central America, and on the Caribbean island of Cuba.
This specific species can be found in tropical woodland in southern Mexico south through much of Central American and extending south to Panama. An interesting characteristic of this species is the ability to produce via parthenogenesis. In Costa Rica and Panama the populations of this species are exclusively female. In the absence of males to contribute genetic material, the females simply copy their own chromosomes and self fertilize the developing ova. The offspring birthed are essentially clones of the maternal female and are of course, all female. This genus of night lizard is ovovivaporous, meaning the females retain the developing thin walled ova internally until the offspring are fully formed and ready to hatch. She then gives 'birth' to around three to five offspring which quickly disperse into the surrounding cover.
Night lizards are crepuscular animals, mostly active in the first few hours of dawn and evening. They prey on a variety of insects, arachnids, centipedes, and soft bodied invertebrates like insect larvae and earthworms. They can be found throughout their range in heavily shaded forest with accessible ground cover and are fond of utilizing fallen rotting logs as both hunting grounds and shelter.
This species remains relatively small, adults measure approximately five inches snout to vent, with a five to six inch tail.
Here at Asheville Wildside we are always expanding the menagerie of unique species we work with. I am personally drawn to organisms less commonly kept and those species that represent new challenges in our understanding and husbandry practices. We have a small group of females and stay tuned as we get these girls acclimated, comfortable and well fed. Fingers crossed for some future little clones!