An animal with an impressive name like Shinasaurus crocodilurus might give the impression it is a rather imposing beast. However, visitors to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo can see that the Chinese crocodile lizard is really a very small, but interesting, reptile.
The shinasaurus may be small, but it brings the wow-factor to the zoo-going experience, and its beautiful coloration and dramatic look make it popular with observers.
Chinese crocodile lizards are secretive reptiles that live exclusively in misty, damp, forested regions of China including Hunan, Guangxi Zhuang and Guizhou provinces. This semi-aquatic lizard spends its time in shallow water hunting for food. Its diet in the wild consists of insects, fresh water snails and tadpoles.
It is named for the parallel rows of bony plates that run along its tail — much like a crocodile. This strong tail makes the croc-lizard an adept swimmer. In fact, this little reptile has been reported to stay underwater for up to 30 minutes.
Not much is known about these lizards, but we do know they are endangered. Professor Shin of Sun Yat Sen University first described the species in 1928, but it wasn’t until about ten years later that the animal was confirmed as a new species and named shinasaurus after its discoverer. One of the most interesting behaviors of this animal is its habit of spending hours motionless in what is described as a “metabolic pause” — a suspension of reaction to outside stimuli. The local Chinese have nicknamed this lizard “the lizard of great sleepiness” as a result of this observation.
WCS has conducted projects in China for many years, working with government and non-governmental partners on wildlife conservation and management across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Amur tiger conservation in northeastern China’s trans-boundary area. WCS also joins these partners in conservation efforts for the Chinese alligator and giant soft-shelled turtle in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and education and enforcement training to reduce wildlife trade and consumption in South China.
Next time you visit the Prospect Park Zoo, take some time to look for the elusive Chinese crocodile lizard. This is one beautiful little lizard worth the search.