03 18/03/2011

Rare Venomous Lizards Hatch

A venomous species known as the beaded lizard has bred for the first time at Chester Zoo.

Three of the rare reptiles, which sport yellow and black markings, have hatched over the past week, proving a welcome addition to the zoo’s collection.

The beaded lizard, one of only two truly venomous lizard species, found fame in 2007 when it was discovered that it could help in the treatment of diabetes.

Scientists uncovered a new protein, called exendin-3, in the saliva of the giant lizard which shares similarities with a human hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Although exendin-3 proved to be vasoactive, meaning it constricts blood vessels, subsequent tests on the beaded lizard’s close relative, the Gila monster, unearthed another new protein on which the basis for a new drug was formed. 

“To breed beaded lizards is a great achievement for our Reptile Team, especially as they are an uncommon species threatened by deforestation and human persecution,” said Richard Gibson, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at Chester Zoo. 

“They are seldom seen in the wild,” he added.

The babies are currently just 22cm long but may reach almost one metre when fully grown. Their scientific name Heloderma horridum means ‘studded-skinned horror’ and they have small pieces of bone in the scales of their skin that act like chainmail armour.

The lizards, which are threatened by habit loss and illegal hunting for the pet trade in their native Mexico and Guatemala, will now form part of an international zoo programme, aimed at raising awareness of their unique characteristics and the need to conserve them in the wild.

Photograph by Richard Gibson