English name: Oriental Garden Lizard (aka “Changeable Lizard”)
Scientific name: Calotes versicolor
Thai name: Ging-ga Hua Daeng or Ging-ga Rua
Description: To 37 cm long. Snout to base of tail is up to 10 cm. This spiny lizard differs from most lizards in Bangkok in having a robust body that is higher than it is wide. Color is highly variable, ranging from yellow-tan to olive to brown to grey, sometimes with dark markings along the back. Occasional young individuals will also have light markings or a light line running down the back. In breeding season males can show deep red or rust coloration on the front of the body, while females may become yellow. Breeding males also develop a black blotch on the throat. Skin is rough and spiny, unlike the smooth skinks or the soft geckos. Head is large. Adults have a crest that rises up from behind the eyes to the back. Small spines can be seen just above the external ear. Dark lines radiate out from the eye. Has long legs and long toes. Tail is very slender and more than twice as long as the body. Underbelly is white.
Indo-Chinese Forest Lizard is usually larger, has a distinct white lip, is almost always greyish rather than tan, and has males that turn blue during the breeding season.
Forest Crested Lizard has unique, distinct spines above the eye and eardrum and does not tend to be found in heavily populated habitats like Bangkok.
Long-tailed Grass Lizard is wider than it is high, has smooth scales, lacks the dorsal crest, and has green coloration on the sides of its body.
Habitat: Naturally found in open forest and shrubland, but has adapted tremendously well to urban environments and can be found in agricultural areas, parks, empty lots, gardens, and even decorative shrubs in front of businesses. Usually seen off the ground in low vegetation.
Contribution to the ecosystem: Helps control insect populations. Will occasionally eat small lizards, baby rodents, or seeds. Provides food for snakes and birds.
Danger to humans: Will often bite when handled but rarely is strong enough to even draw blood.
Conservation status and threats: Is a widespread and common species that has adapted well to humans and has no known conservation threats. It has been introduced to Singapore, where it is considered an invasive species that threatens local lizard populations.
Interesting facts: The general public often considers reptiles and amphibians to be more “mysterious” than other animals, and this can be reflected in their common names. The Oriental Garden Lizard is referred to as the “Bloodsucker” in many areas, a name that stirs up unnecessary fears. Obviously, the Oriental Garden Lizard is an insect-eater and does not suck blood from anything, especially not humans. It is thought that the name “Bloodsucker” may have originated from the red head and throat that male garden lizards often display during the breeding season. In talking to people about snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, and caecilians you can come across many other inaccurate common names that have developed alongside urban legends involving the animals.
The Oriental Garden Lizard is also known as the “Changeable Lizard”, due to its wide variation in coloration and ability to change colors significantly during the breeding season.
During breeding season, the male Oriental Garden Lizard will approach the female while extending its “gular” (throat sac), raise the front of its body as high as possible while nodding its head, and open and close its mouth repeatedly. Males may also demonstrate this aggressive behavior when approached by people during the breeding season.
Ecology Asia: Changeable Lizard
Wikipedia: Oriental Garden Lizard
Hong Kong University: Calotes versicolor
Thailand Office of Environmental Planning and Policy: A Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles in Thailand
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia
The Lizards of Thailand