The Frilled Neck Lizard
The frilled lizard can rapidly erect a neck frill to increase its apparent size and scare off would be predators. Learn more about the behavior of this lizard.
The Australian frilled lizard is one of the most spectacularly bizarre reptiles. When threatened, it puts on a fearsome defense display that belies its non-aggressive nature. The frilled lizard resembles a creature from the primordial past and bounds along on its hind legs looking just like a tiny dinosaur. His sharp, conical front teeth and flat, chisel shaped rear teeth are fused to the side of the jaw. Only front teeth are replaceable. His mouth may be pink or yellow inside. His very long, whiplike tail can be aggressively lashed at an attacker or used to counterbalance his bodyweight when it stands erect on its hindlegs. His sharp, curved claws enable him to climb trees with speed and dexterity. His frill, the U-shaped collar of skin, open at the back of the neck, is supported by two bony rods that extend backward on each side. By contracting the muscles at the base of these rods, the lizard can rapidly erect the frill into a ruff.
An able and agile climber, the frilled lizard lives in the tropical savannah woodlands of southern New Guinea and northern Australia. It prefers areas with well-drained soil that support a range of trees. Often seeking the tallest trees, the frilled lizard spends up to 90% of its time perched in the canopy, 30-50’ above ground. In the parts of its range that have clearly defined seasons, the frilled lizard is inactive during the dry season of April to August, when temperatures soar and prey becomes scarce. But within a few hours of a heavy rainstorm that soaks the parched woodland, the frilled lizard becomes active once more and is soon on the lookout for its next meal.
Emerging from its nighttime refuge, usually high in a tree, the frilled lizard moves sluggishly out of shady foliage and into the sunlight. For 30- to 45 minutes, the lizard basks in the sun, it is cold blooded and its organs need warmth to function correctly. Once warm, the lizard is ready to look for food. In the morning it pumps blood from the cool core of its body to the surface to speed up the warming process. As night approaches, the lizard reverses this flow, reducing heat loss through its skin.
The frilled lizard forages during the early morning and late afternoon, when prey is active. Choosing a vantage point. Usually in the low branches of a tree, the lizard sits motionless, its sharp eyes scanning for movement below. As soon as the lizard spots a potential meal, it descends to the ground and scampers off in pursuit. It then drops onto all fours and seizes its victim in its conical front teeth. It feeds mainly on moth and butterfly caterpillars but also eats termites and ants and occasionally small vertebrates.
Except when they mate, male and female frilled lizards live solitary lives. The female lays leathery, white eggs in a burrow, which is later filled with soil and covered with leaf litter. Buried in the warm earth, the eggs incubate for two to three months. Less than 6” long at birth, the young lizards dig their way out of the soil and at once begin searching for insects to eat. This is a dangerous time for the young, many fall victim to birds, snakes, and other lizards.
Aborigines once hunted the frilled lizard for food but remains numerous, due largely to the fact that much of its range in Australia is remote and undeveloped. The frilled lizard is also protected by Australian law.