Despite its common name giving the impression of a large, ferocious reptile, the ring-tailed dragon (Ctenophorus caudicinctus) is actually a relatively small lizard with moderately long limbs (2).
The ring-tailed dragon is mostly reddish-brown, with rows of large, dark spots along its back which sometimes alternate with thin, pale bands or perpendicular rows of small, pale spots. This patterning tends to be weaker in adult ring-tailed dragons than in juveniles (2). Like other Ctenophorus species, the ring-tailed dragon is sexually dimorphic (3), with the male sporting a large, dark patch on its chest (2). As its name suggests, the ring-tailed dragon has bands along its tail, and these are more conspicuous in males (2).
The ring-tailed dragon has a prominent crest on its hind neck and along its back, as well as some spines on the sides of its neck. Like other species in its genus, the ring-tailed dragon has a row of enlarged scales curving under each eye and up past the ear (2).
- Also known as
- ring-tailed bicycle-dragon.
- Amphibolurus caudicinctus, Amphibolurus imbricatus, Grammatophora caudicincta.
- Snout-vent length: 10 cm (2)
Ring-tailed dragon biology
Despite it being a widespread species, there is relatively little information available on the biology of the ring-tailed dragon.
The ring-tailed dragon is known to bask on rocks (2), tending to stay closer to the ground in the morning and evening, and moving to higher ground in the middle of the day (7). Interestingly, this species is able to increase the heat absorbance of its skin quite considerably through colour change, which enables the reptile to raise its body temperature even in cool conditions. By decreasing absorbance in warmer conditions, the ring-tailed dragon can ensure that it can remain active while not overheating (7). An alert species, the ring-tailed dragon is easily disturbed while basking, dashing into a rock crevice or under a large boulder if approached (2).
The ring-tailed dragon is reported to breed in the summer after cyclonic rains, and is thought to die once the breeding season is over (8).
Ring-tailed dragon range
The ring-tailed dragon is endemic to Australia (1) (2) (4) (5), and is widely distributed throughout parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia (1) (2) (3) (4) (6).
There are six different subspecies of ring-tailed dragon (1) (4) (5) (6), and these all differ in their distribution. For instance, while Ctenophorus caudicinctus caudicinctus occurs in the Pilbara region and offshore islands of Western Australia, Ctenophorus caudicinctus graafi is found in the far eastern interior of the state (1) (4).
Species with a similar range
Ring-tailed dragon habitat
Ctenophorus species are generally found in dry to arid areas (2), and the ring-tailed dragon is no exception. This species is found in a variety of rocky habitats (4), including arid stony hills, rocky ranges and outcrops on which it can bask (2) (5) (6) (7). The ring-tailed dragon can be found in hummock grassland and open shrubland (3), but tends to be present in areas with little vegetation (7), including desert ranges (3) (7).
Species found in a similar habitat
Ring-tailed dragon status
The ring-tailed dragon has not yet been classified on the IUCN Red List.
Ring-tailed dragon threats
At present, there are no known major threats to the ring-tailed dragon, and it is not considered to be at risk of extinction.
Ring-tailed dragon conservation
There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the ring-tailed dragon. However, all reptiles are protected on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia, so the ring-tailed dragon may receive some protection there (9).
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- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Sexual dimorphism
- When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (November, 2012)
Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. New Holland Publishers, Australia.
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2012) Ctenophorus caudicinctus. In: Australian Faunal Directory. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at:
The Reptile Database (November, 2012)
Wilson, S.K. (2012) Australian Lizards: A Natural History. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Melville, J., Shulte II, J.A. and Larson, A. (2001) A molecular phylogenetic study of ecological diversification in the Australian lizard genus Ctenophorus. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution, 291: 339-353.
Melville, J. and Schulte II, J.A. (2001) Correlates of active body temperatures and microhabitat occupation in nine species of central Australian agamid lizards. Austral Ecology, 26: 660-669.
Bradshaw, D. (2003) Vertebrate Ecophysiology: An Introduction to its Principles and Applications. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at: