Sungazer in situ – South Africa January 2016

Welcome to the Smaug giganteus web site. The international meeting place for people to obtain and exchange information and observations on this threatened species.

The fact that you have found your way to this site and are reading this introduction, suggests that you are interested in finding out more information on the Sungazer Lizard!!
Many of you will have come up against a distinct lack of quality information on this species, either in books or on the internet. I have spent many hours collecting and compiling the scattered information, while conversing verbally and in writing with people from all across the world. I hope this web site will go some way to address this lack of information. I do not consider myself a world authority on this species. I have however collected a wealth of information and had many years practical experience of keeping this species in captivity.
With the launch of this site I hope to bring together organisations and individuals throughout the world to share their own first-hand experiences of this species, whether it is privately, within zoological collections or in the wild.

This web site should be seen as an ever evolving source of information and as more information is exchanged between keepers of this species it may be necessary to amend certain aspects of this site. This is something I am happy to do as and when creditable, substantiated information or observations become available.

First described in 1844 by the Scottish naturalist, Dr. Sir Alan Smith, this species is known by many different names such as; Sungazer, Giant Girdled Lizard, Zonure, Lord Derby’s Lizard or Ouvolk. People often confuse this species with other members of the Cordylid family, most commonly the Armadillo Lizard – Ouroborus cataphractus (previously Cordylus cataphractus), when threatened this species will often grab its tail and rolls into a ball to protect its soft under belly. To my knowledge there is no record of a true Sungazer exhibiting this behavior.

Cordylus tropidosternum and Cordylus jonesii are often referred to as Dwarf Sungazers. This again is incorrect, as neither of these species posture towards the sun to the same extent as Smaug giganteus.

In 2011 the Sungazer Lizard, along with several other members previously within the Cordylus family, were given new scientific names. The Sungazer was placed into a new genus – Smaug, along with 7 other species, and given the new binomial name of Smaug giganteus. This, for me, is proof of just how different this species actually is from the other Cordylid species.

Sungazers are heavily armoured lizards hence one of their common names, the Girdled Lizard. This is derived from the rows of ossified, bony scales along their body. These scales or osteoderms are heavily keeled and are arranged in uniform rings or girdles around the body. The name Ouvolk is from the ancient Afrikaans language spoken by early Dutch settlers and roughly translates into “Old Folk”, supposedly referring to its tendency of sitting at the entrance of the burrow facing the sun for many hours on end. Universally, the most commonly used name, Sungazer is also derived from this posturing. The name Zonure and Lord Derby’s Lizard have all but vanished from use.

The name ‘giant’ suggests that these animals are large in stature. This is true when compared to the other forty plus species of the Cordylidae family. Adults reach a size of about 38 centimetres (14.6 inches) from snout to tail tip, are dark brown in colour on their upper body becoming a yellow-straw colour on their flanks and underside. Younger animals are more colourful with yellow and black bars or stripes on their body, which fades as they mature.