There's no red-headed stepchildren in the agama's family, because only the head of the tribe gets to show off all of his brilliant colors while the rest of his family has to settle for dulled versions of the rainbow. These African lizards average only about nine inches long, but their bright colors and big personalities are hard to miss.
Commonly called the rainbow lizard, the red-headed agama's crimson crown is just the start of his display. While females and non-dominant males are not so brightly colored, a breeding male has a red or orange head, blue body and a tail that can be either red, deep blue or striped turquoise. The male's colors intensify during breeding season. They also change when he's contemplating a fight with another male. Preceding a fight, his head turns brown and white spots appear on his body. Females and young males are typically brown or olive green with a white belly, and a head that is slightly different color than their body.
Dominant male red-headed agamas establish a territory and govern a group of ten to 20 females and juveniles within the territory. Subordinate males, if allowed to remain, must be submissive to the male leader, such as allowing him the choice spot for basking in the sun. Males fight for territory and control of the group, with the winner gaining the right to breed with the females.
Female red-headed agamas lay eggs in clutches, with the average clutch containing between five and seven eggs. All of the eggs in a clutch will be the same sex, which is determined by the ambient temperature. Eggs laid when temperatures are between approximately 78 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit produce females, while eggs laid when temperatures are approximately 84 degrees Fahrenheit or higher produce males.
Rainbow lizards put on distinctive displays before breeding and fighting, and also use head nodding and bobbing to signal their position within the hierarchy of the group. A dominant male courting a female will start by bobbing his head, which can look like he's doing push-ups with the front half of his body. When preparing to fight, he will bob with his whole body, arch his body and hop sideways. The male offers the display several times, giving the challenger an opportunity to retreat before attacking.
The main-stay of an agama's diet are insects like grasshoppers, ants and beetles, but they will also eat small vertebrates and some plants on occasion. They have a special patch on the tip of the tongue that is covered with sticky mucous that helps them trap their food. An agama lizard doesn't go out hunting for his food, but waits for it to come to him. He will hide in grasses or shrubbery and pounce on insects when they come close enough for him to catch them with his tongue.