Known as the Spiny Tail lizard, the beaded lizard family has a long history in Mexican and American folklore and art. This reptile is one of the wizards in the world with its head band made up of beads rather than scales, like most reptiles. They have been portrayed as elk-like or pre-human beings with large rounded ears and a tail with a large “Y” shaped hook on the end. Some people believe they resemble hobbits because of their round heads and legs. However, there is no evidence to prove this.
Mexican beaded lizards seem to be closely related to the Gila reptiles, also called Mexican beaded snakes. They also are dark brown to black in color with red or orange spots on their greenish or brown skin. Their skin is usually composed of beaded scales known as osteodermata that contain small pieces of soft bone, which give the lizards their beautiful armor. They feed on insects that crawl along the ground such as crickets and centipedes. They live in different habitats in the southwestern united states.
Two recent studies confirm that the beaded lizard is indeed a Gila monster. However, they differ in size and shape, which could account for their widely differing sizes (and taxonomic assignments). One study found them to be most abundant in the Sonoran Desert while the other found them sparsely in the floodplains and floodplain areas of Texas.
The most recently discovered specimen is a Mexican specimen that was a bit over one foot in length (about two feet complete). It is called the ‘horny mexican giant’, which is significantly smaller than all other specimens found previously. The new Mexican beaded lizard is distinctively colored with red and orange stripes on its greenish or brown skin. Its legs appear to be slightly bent at the knees, and it has webbed toes and a tail with three claws on each side of its head. Its prehensile claws do not fit into its preformed jaws, as is typical for this species. Because of this feature, this lizard might have a difficulty fitting through its proboscis, allowing it to grasp prey with its tail instead.
Previously, it was assumed that the Beaded Lizard lived only in the Sonoran Desert because of its venomous bites. However, according to recent research, the Mexican beaded lizard also could be a member of the Irritanglion class of lizards. This specie can produce venom that can cause moderate to severe burns and inflammation. Interestingly, the saliva contains anticoagulant components that are similar to the compounds produced by the human parasympathetic system, such as Adrenalin, epinephrine and nor epinephrine. It also contains a type of non-toxic resin that, when applied to tissue, is capable of constricting the blood vessels in the area.
The Mexican beaded lizard is distinctly related to other reptiles in the family of snakes such as the Australian devil snake, at the branch known as Sarcophylidae. In addition, it is most closely related to its close cousin the house mouse, which has robust legs and a short tail. Its name, Beaded lizard, is based on the fact that its forelimb ends are decorated with small beads or strands of beads, similar to those of the bead-like specie. Apart from the tail, the legs, upper part of the body and head are covered with thick, dark brown fur.
The discovery of this lizard might have been restricted to the Sonoran Desert but, thanks to a study by William R. Dietrich and David R. Larson, who made an unassisted search for the lizard in northern Mexico, several specimens were found in the desert of Guatemala. Their discovery was announced in a scientific paper, which was published in pp. 4-5 of the Journal of Comparative Biology.
The lizard, which lives in the deserts of central Mexico and southern Arizona, is classified as either a genus Cynodidilus or a subspecies Cricetus, according to recent taxonomic studies. Apart from the presence of a short tail, the most important characteristics of the Mexican beaded lizard are its large range of natural prey and its great ability to regenerate even when severely wounded. Apart from eating small insects, the lizard can also consume carrion, snakes, lizards, birds and other reptiles. Unfortunately, the lizard is severely endangered, the last known specimen being killed by a drinker at Nez Perce in December 1994.