Phrynocephalus mystaceus agamas in nature and captivity: some interesting facts and the details of keeping at BION
The Secret Toadhead Agama (Phrynocephalus mystaceus) is one of the biggest species of Phrynocephalus genus, with exciting appearance and notable behavior. Among more than 40 Phrynocephalus species, these animals are still not common in collections. Thus, there are a lot of unexplored shades in their biology and ecology. In this article we’ll try to give a general info of P. mystaceus, and we expect that our own observations and colleagues research could afford ground for further study and future protection of these animals in their natural habitat and enclosure conditions.
Adult individuals of Phrynocephalus mystaceus are middle-sized lizards ( the total length can come up to 24 cm, including tail). The predominant shade in coloration is sandy, with light-grey spots and milky-white underside. The end of tail is black, and there is also a black spot on the throat (males usually have more frank one). Young agamas differ with light throat and orange coloration on the downside of hindfoots and tail.
Animals have original exterior, with flat nose and big lappets of skin on the corners of chaps (agamas can open these lappets if scared). Skinny combs on the dactyls (to dig into sand) are visible and interesting feature, too.
The Secret Toadhead Agamas inhabit arid regions of Iran, North Afghanistan, Eastern Caucasus, Kazakhstan and Astrakhan Oblast of Russia. Herpetologists usually recognize 2 subspecies – Phrynocephalus mystaceus mystaceus and P. mystaceus galli, but it is still debatable question.
Toadhead agamas are entirely terrestrial. In summer period, this species prefers barchan sands, covered with thin shrubby or herbaceous vegetation. Sometimes animals form settlements at human-made habitats, like environs of roads. Wintering (typically, from November to February) takes place mostly on the slops of barchans, where agamas dig up single burrows about 80-100 cm long with the moist chamber in margins and winter temperature about 5-12º C. By the way, these burrows are often used as shelters for young individuals in summer, as adults just dig themselves into sand at night, in rainy weather or in the event of danger.
During the warm period (usually from March to October, in exception cases – from the late February to November), animals demonstrate day activity with 2 peaks, which coincide with morning and evening hours. They spend much of time, hunting they prey. The base of ration consists of insects – bugs, locusts, ants, flies etc., as well as spiders.
The cold period of a year is time for hibernation, and agamas become torpid then (about wintering see above).
Social behavior of Toadhead agamas is diverse and dramatic, but generally animals are aggressive, and confrontations are frequently observed between individuals of different age and sex. The most notable ways of communication are opening of lappets of skin on the corners of chaps and rolling tail. The thorough research of P. mystaceus ecology and social behavior is a wide and exciting subject for further studying, in view of deficient state of knowledge in this intellectual field at the moment.
Toadhead agamas are oviparous animals. Mating period takes place from the late April to the beginning of July, and after it females often make (dig into a sand) 2 sequential clutches – in June and in the late July. The number of eggs at the clutch varies from 2 to 6, depending on the age of female. Hatching happens in July and August.
Juveniles have total length about 30-40 mm and are closely similar to adults, except few differences (see above). They usually settle near hatching places, and attain they individual territories only when 1.5-2 years old (they become nobilous in this age).
Despite of the fact that P. mystaceus have remarkable exterior and comparatively small-scale size, this species is still not common in herpetoculture. Hereafter we will share with our keeping experience, and we hope that it could help in some way.
The Secret Toadhead Agama in BION
Enclosure: we keep adult animals in groups of 1 male with several females, but never place 2 males nearby. The minimal size of enclosure (glass terrarium or plastic container, covered with gauze) is 400x600x400 mm, but generally agamas feel better in possibly big terrariums.
Substrate: bank sand, a layer about 2-3 cm. In the meantime, the deeper layer of a substrate is desirable for breeding.
Decoration: as agamas spend much time in the send layer, they don’t need shelters. Water bowl is not needed, too.
Illumination: full spectrum lamp is absolutely necessary. We use ReptiSun lamps 10 hours every day (except wintering). Day length is about 10 hours, too.
Temperature and heating: day 25-30º C and night 22-24º C in summer period. We also use 60-100 W lamps to construct a basking spot with the temperature of 40-45º C.
Humidity: about 40-50%, with spraying once a day and good ventilation of the enclosure.
Diet: adult animals receive feed every second day. We provide them crickets (4-5 proportioned insects for each lizard), or mealworms (4-5 larvae the same way).
Mineral supplements: we use Calcium+D3 powder with every feeding.
Hibernation: takes only 1 month at the temperature of about 10º C, without spraying and with the water bowl. Small-size plastic containers with breathing holes are useful for wintering.
References and useful links