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A lucky number for one of the rarest reptiles

Zoo Atlanta celebrates its most successful breeding season ever for critically endangered Guatemalan beaded lizards.

Thirteen proves to be a lucky number for one of the planet’s rarest reptile species, with Zoo Atlanta’s most successful season ever for hatching Guatemalan beaded lizards. The Zoo has welcomed a total of 13 hatchlings in spring 2017 – a record for Zoo Atlanta, the only zoological organization outside Guatemala that is currently breeding the species.

Zoo Atlanta is one of only four zoos in the U.S. housing Guatemalan beaded lizards. Since the arrival of the Zoo’s first hatchling in 2012, a total of 35 have successfully hatched in subsequent years. Guatemalan beaded lizards lay their eggs in fall and early winter. The 13 new hatchlings began emerging from their eggs on March 31, 2017.

“Every animal birth at Zoo Atlanta is important, but it is especially so when we consider that there are so few Guatemalan beaded lizards in the wild. This species is not only exceptionally rare but challenging to reproduce,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Vice President of Animal Divisions. “We are very proud to see Zoo Atlanta leading the way in helping to ensure a future for this species and in sharing what we have learned with our partners in the U.S. and Guatemala.”

The Guatemalan beaded lizard is an example of an animal most Americans would have no awareness of were it not for zoological populations. As reclusive as they are rare, the lizards are found only in the Motagua Valley in Guatemala, where they are believed to number fewer than 200 in the wild. The species and its close relatives, which include the Gila monster of the southwestern U.S., are the only known venomous lizards. Although Guatemalan beaded lizards spend most of their lives below ground and rarely encounter humans, wild populations face serious challenges because of habitat loss and illegal trade. The species faces additional pressures from fear-based killing resulting from long-held myths that the lizards have supernatural powers.

Zoo Atlanta has worked with the Foundation for the Endangered Species of Guatemala on Conservation Heloderma, which works to purchase and protect Guatemalan beaded lizard habitat; combat black-market trade; promote local education; and improve the lives of people living in communities that share the lizards’ native range.

The properties of the Guatemalan beaded lizard’s venom, which is used only in self-defense and is not used to capture prey, have only recently become known to science. Unlike most lizard species, the Guatemalan beaded lizard has a high aerobic capacity and is able to stabilize its blood sugar levels during contrasting periods of eating and fasting, thanks to a unique hormone. This hormone has been synthesized by pharmaceutical companies in the treatment of human diabetes.

For more information on conservation programs at Zoo Atlanta, visit zooatlanta.org/conservation.

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