Habitat: S/W Angola, W Mozambique, W/S/SE Zimbabwe, Botswana, N South Africa, Namibia
Status: Not Listed
Pictured above is an adult female Bushveld Lizard (Heliobolus lugubris), which, looks pretty much like your average desert lizard. Sandy-colored, with long toes to help it keep its surface area nice and spread out so it doesn’t get stuck in the sand. It’s juveniles, on the other hand, look absolutely nothing like it, save for when its transitioning into its adult form. At hatching, the two-inch long baby desert lizards are black with white-ish/yellow blotches neatly positioned across the length of their tiny reptilian bodies.
You might be thinking, “Hm, this is weird coloring to have if you’re living in a basically white, sand-colored environment. You’d stick out like a soar thumb!” Well, the lizard agrees with you! But actually, this is all part of the master plan! *evil cackle*
You see, juveniles of the bushveld desert lizard mimic the Oogpister beetle (Anthia sp.) which literally means “eye-squirter.” The beetle has the ability to squirt formic acid into its attacker’s eyes – something the bushveld lizards’ quickly noticed kept the oogpister beetles off the dinner menu. So, the babies not only mimic the beetles with their coloration… but also with their gait!
The lizard, when it’s approached by a potential predator, raises the rear portion of its body into the air, locks its hind legs rigidly, and then walks with a stiff, jerky gait while rocking from side to side. To a human, it might not seem that frightening, but to other indigenous fauna, it most certainly is.
This is the exact same behavior the Oogpister beetle displays right before gearing up to give your face a nice acid washing. So, to local animals, if they see a black and white thing comin’ a rockin’ they definitely DO NOT come a knockin’.
This is only one of the few known instances where a vertebrate (the lizard) mimics an invertebrate (the beetle). Super cool. Check it out in this clip from BBC’s Life in Cold Blood: