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Your Armored Reptile


The Cape Cliff lizard sports a bony body armor.

The Cape Cliff lizard, Hemicordylus capensis, belongs to the family of girdled lizards, which have protective bony plates embedded in their skin. It lives in high-altitude areas throughout South Africa’s Cape Fold mountains. Its agile long legs and digits enable it to scurry across the mountains’ steep rocks, and bone fragments in the skin provide protection. Our hair and skin can be traced back to the scales of ancient, long-extinct reptiles that connect us to this armored lizard.

To learn more about your reptilian ancestry, watch Episode 2 of Your Inner Fish on PBS, and find related educational resources at the Your Inner Fish page on BioInteractive.

Image courtesy of Edward L. Stanley, PhD, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco CA

Technical Details:
This image was scanned at the Microscopy and Imaging Facility of the American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY, USA), using computer-assisted x-ray imaging. This technique reveals the intricate arrangement of the bony skin deposits (colored in green) and the rest of the skeleton (colored in gray).  

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