The frilled lizard (Agamidae: Chlamydosaurus kingii), part 1: an Australian genus, doubly odd beyond its cervical bluffing


Please see: and and and

Chlamydosaurus kingii ( and and is a distinctively Australian lizard.

This monospecific genus is well-known for an extreme anatomical structure: a foldable neck-frill, which is erectile by virtue of the opening of the mouth.

However, what is underappreciated is how odd this lizard is, in combining

  • specialisation for both arboreal (quadrupedal) locomotion and terrestrial (bipedal) locomotion, and
  • camouflage-colouration (when in trees, e.g. and warning colouration (when displaying to potential predators).


Chlamydosaurus kingii is specialised for clinging inconspicuously to the boles of trees (
and - which many photographs show it doing in the rainy season, as part of its sit-and-wait foraging strategy.

Furthermore, it spends the dry season on branches in the crowns of trees, where - in a metabolically quiescent state - it is further hidden by shading and plant-structural clutter.

What this means is that, for about half the year, the head is habitually oriented horizontally, while for the other half of the year, the head is habitually oriented vertically. During the former period, the animal tends to be semi-torpid and relatively inattentive, whereas in the latter period, the animal is alert, spotting its prey (mainly invertebrates) on the ground.

This implies that the eyes have a different relationship to the head during the two periods.

When C. kingii clings to boles, the rigidly vertical orientation of the head seems unremarkable.

However, this vertical orientation of the head tends to remain even when the animal stands quadrupedally on the ground ( and and and and - which it does mainly in the rainy season, when foraging on the ground.

The orientation tends towards the horizontal when C. kingii runs bipedally with the mouth open ( and and

What does not seem to have been pointed out before is that the eyelids - as well as presumably the eyeballs - swivel with changes in the orientation of the head, from vertical to horizontal.

Various animals, including caprin bovids ( and and, are capable of swivelling the eyeballs within the eye-sockets, compensating for shifts in orientation from horizontal to vertical.

Such swivelling of the eyeball itself is not apparent in photographs of C. kingii, because the pupil is circular.

However, photos do show that the eyelids swivel ( and and and and and and and and and and

This has not been recorded in any mammal or bird, and it suggests that the whole complex, of eyeball plus lids, swivels in the orbits

Turning now to gaits:

Despite its arboreal specialisation, C. kingii tends to adopt upright bipedality when running ( and and and walking on the ground.

Several Australian agamids tend to run bipedally. However,

  • none of these - apart from C. kingii - is arboreal, and
  • C. kingii is unique among agamids in being able to walk bipedally.

The upright bipedality of C. kingii seems to be facilitated by the proportionately long neck of the species, which allows the animal to lean backwards in maintaining balance.

What this means is that, in their own ways, both the eyes and the cervical vertebrae are adaptively modified in ways consistent with the dual locomotory specialisation of the species.


The conspicuous colouration of C. kingii is displayed while bluffing would-be predators, as well as when interacting socially/sexually (

The full anti-predator display - which is largely bluff, because the C. kingii has neither formidable teeth nor venom - consists of

  • erection of the frill,
  • opening of the mouth,
  • lashing of the tail, and
  • approaching and even contacting the human figure.

The colouration of C. kingii varies

  • ontogenetically (with infants having consistent camouflage-colouration, whether perched or among leaf-litter on the ground),
  • according to substrate (somewhat analogous with chameleons),
  • according to mood/season, and
  • geographically, with the frill tending to be red in the west, yellow in the east (with orange in the intermediate area), and whitish in the southeast (see photos at the end of this Post).

There seems to be scant sexual dimorphism in colouration in C. kingii, despite the fact that mature males can weigh twice as much as adult females, and have the head and frill disproportionately large.

If this is true, it is at odds with the family Agamidae, in which many or most spp. have males considerably brighter-hued than females.

Many photographs show pale jowls, contrasting with darkened ground-colour:

I have yet to understand the adaptive value of this feature, which

  • plays a negligible part in the display of the erect frill, and
  • is ambivalent w.r.t. functioning conspicuously (e.g. for communication intraspecifically among individuals with the frill folded) or inconspicuously (by disrupting the figure, in resemblance of a dapple of sunshine).


red hue (Kimberley of Western Australia):

yellow hue (northernmost Queensland):

dark spot on frill:

maximum display:

to be continued in

Posted on August 02, 2023 10:26 PM by milewski milewski


In infants of Chlamydosaurus kingii, the camouflage-colouration extends even to the orbits and eyelids, on which there is a disruptive pattern, tending to hide the eyes ( and and

Posted by milewski 12 months ago
Posted by milewski 12 months ago

Lizards in the family Agamidae include several other genera with erectable organs if display on the neck/throat.

For example:

Draco volans

Posted by milewski 12 months ago

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