Guatemalan Beaded Lizard Born At Zoo Atlanta
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Guatemalan beaded lizard hatchling. Photo credit: Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta.
A Guatemalan beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti) has hatched at Zoo Atlanta, the second zoo in the world (San Diego Zoo has successfully hatched six beaded lizards) to successfully hatch this critically endangered species in captivity. Zoo Atlanta is the only zoo in the United States that houses a zoological collection of Guatemalan beaded lizards. The hatchling lizard is an important component in the zoo's captive breeding program because its mother is a wild-caught specimen, ensuring the hatchling has diverse genes not yet in the program. The mother was collected in Guatemala in the early 1980s by a herpetologist who used her to describe the species to science. She was sent to Zoo Atlanta in 2000.
It is estimated that there are less than 200 Guatemalan beaded lizards in the wild. It is only found in the Motagua Valley in Guatemala. The lizard has suffered from the effects of habitat loss, illegal trade, and local Guatemalan myths that purport the lizard to have magical powers. The saliva and venom of the Guatemalan beaded lizard are used in a new diabetes drug called Byetta. The lizard spends up to 70 percent of its life underground and feeds on nestling birds, rabbits, and rodents, as well as reptile eggs.
Zoo Atlanta maintains a conservation program with Zootropic and the International Reptile Conservation Foundation (IRCF) in Guatemala in an effort to save the lizard from extinction. Called Project Heloderma, the program studies the lizard's distribution in the Motagua Valley, the issues that affect its conservation, the animal's biology and its use of shelters. Project Heloderma also recently acquired a 125-acre footprint of land (1,000 total acres) of prime beaded lizard habitat with grants from Eli Lilly Corp., the Oklahoma City Zoo, Toronto Zoo, and the National Reptile Breeders Expo.