Pondicherry’s Unique Reptile Story

When most think of Pondicherry, they usually think of the picturesque French colonies and resorts, the clean-looking beaches, and the Auroville township. But known only to locals, it is a very interesting species of reptile. Described first by Edward Blyth in 1853, the reptile according to his lens, had “a long slender body, an elongated tail, and a pointed head.” Nothing interesting so far. Sounds like any other gecko. However, the next few lines were what made this reptile unique. In the words of Blyth, “A dewlap exists in both sexes (of the reptile), which can be puffed out at pleasure.” He was referring to the Pondicherry Fan Throated Lizard.

8 inches in height, and weighing merely a few grams, the Sitana Ponticeriana, as is its scientific name, has over 15 different species and is now found almost all over the coast of India. The Pondicherry fan-throated lizards evolved over 26 million years ago when they split from kangaroo lizards, their closest living relative. They were able to adjust to the changing habitat from cool, humid woods to hot, dry grasslands, while their kangaroo counterparts were unable to do so.

Now coming to what many call the USP of the lizard, the dewlap, or fan as most people call it. They display their colorful dewlaps in full capacity to be visible to potential mates. The color of their dewlaps changes as the weather changes. This is mainly because the weather affects their energy levels, which in turn affects the color of the dewlaps. Days with bright sun provide energy to the lizard, bringing out the most color in the dewlaps; while overcast weather forces the lizard to display a white-colored fan, due to low energy levels in the reptile.

Similar to most animals in the wild, these creatures display their dewlap during the mating season, which occurs after the end of the monsoon. During that time, changes can also be seen in their behavior, as they climb over rocks and show off their dewlaps in order to assert dominance. When fighting over a female or over territory, they hardly throw hands (legs in this case) at each other i.e., they hardly get involved in a physical fight. Rather, they hop and move around tactically provoking each other by moving towards each other, in a bipedal gait, finding the best lighting to display their fans. They mainly do this because the colors of their dewlaps are an excellent basis for genetic health.

Fortunately, these creatures are present in the wild in abundance and are therefore in the category of ‘least concern’ on the IUNC scale. So, the next time you think of Pondicherry or that place, make sure to look for and include the Fan throated lizard among other things. You will not be disappointed.






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Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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