The Ultimate Guide: Lizards

Get Schooled: Become the Lizard King

Lizards are a prevalent breed of squamata, or scaled reptiles that are found on every continent of the world to including most island regions with the only exception being Antarctica. The species of lizards comprise over 60% of all living creatures on Earth.

There are over 6,000 different species of lizards that are part of the Lepidasauria, meaning reptiles with overlapping scales, similar to snakes. Lizards are however very different from snakes even though they are within the same reptilian category. Their species include four subgroups which are  Gecko, Iguana, Autarchoglossa and Amphisbaenia.

Amphisbaenia

Amphisbaenia (Legless lizards)

 

Why Lizards Are Not Snakes

Difference between snake and lizard

Difference between snake and lizard

A lizard usually have external ears and have either two or four legs depending on their type, whereas snakes have neither of these qualities. Lizards have a distinct wink to their eyes in the form of eyelids, where snakes do not care nor have eyelids. Most lizards can detach their tails to quickly escape from their predators which will eventually grow back over time.

Characteristics of Lizard and Snake

Iguana skull

Iguana skull

Both lizards and snakes share a common skull and jaw structure but snakes are more flexible in the dislocation of their jaws to eat a larger prey. Both types of reptile are cold blooded and can see or detect the color just as we do.

They communicate with each other by making use of their body language, their bodies are vividly bright in colors and make use of pheromones, or a chemical which is excreted that sends a social signal to the same species. These chemicals are caught on both reptiles’ tongues when they lash out of their mouths. It will then be tasted by the reptile and they get a sense about their environment whether it be a mate, danger or another type of social signal.

 

Lizard Come in All Sizes and Shapes

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

They come in all different sizes and shapes with different cosmetic appearances. Generally speaking, lizards usually have long bodies, small heads, short necks and long tails. Some come with horns, some with spikes while others come in bright bold colors and some are large while others are tiny.

Dwarf Gecko

Dwarf Gecko

Some lizards don’t have legs at all while others don’t have scales like the skink. The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard known in existence today growing upwards of 10 feet (3 meters) long and weighing up to 180 pounds (81 kg). The Dwarf Gecko is the smallest lizard weighing a mere 0.0042 pounds (120 mg) and being only 0.6 inches (1.6 cm).

Different Sub-groups of Lizards

Blue Tongue Skink

Blue Tongue Skink


Gecko

Leopard Gecko

Leopard Gecko

The sub-group Gecko has three different families to include the traditional gecko, the legless flap footed lizards found in New Guinea and Australia and the eye licking lizards or blind lizards.

Just like snakes, most of the geckos and the other two families in this sub-group don’t have any eyelids, which is why some of these lizards use their tongues to moisten their eyes.


Cute Little Bipes

Cute Little Bipes

Amphisbaenia

This sub-group, Amphisbaenia or worm lizard, have over 180 different living species that are mostly comprised of legless and worm like creatures. They have long bodies which never get longer than 6 inches and have undeveloped eyes. With most of them being mainly pink with round scales, they appear to look like earth worms. Their natural habitats range from North and South Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.


Autarchogloss

Autarchoglossa is considered a clade which means it belongs to one ancestor (one branch throughout the tree of life). The species involved include skinks, snakes and other reptile descendants or relatives such as Alligator, Legless and Girdled Tailed lizards along with Bearded lizards, Komodo Dragon, Gila Monsters, Monitors, and Lacertid lizards to name a few.

 


Iguana

Orange Iguana

Orange Iguana

This sub-order of lizards is found in Africa, Western United States, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Southern Asia and Australia. They usually live in trees and have long fleshy grasping and strong tongues. This sub-order includes chameleons, Helmet lizards, iguanas, chuckwallas, collard lizards and many more.

 


What do Lizards Eat?

Chameleon eating insect

Chameleon eating insect

There are thousands of different species of lizards throughout the world and living in different habitats so there is not one specific type of diet that can answer exactly what do lizards eat. The smaller breed of lizards like chameleons and geckos usually consume insects such as flies and crickets.

Komodo Dragon eating deer

Komodo Dragon eating deer

The bigger the lizards, the larger their prey becomes.They start to eat things like spiders, snails, caterpillars, rats, mice and even rabbits. The largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, or otherwise Komodo Monitor, has “paralyzing saliva” that allows them to bring down and eat large animals like wild pigs and deer.

Chuckwallas

Chuckwallas

Not all lizards eat meat, for example, the sub-group tree loving lizards like chuckwallas and iguanas eat berries and fruit they find ample in the trees and area where they live.

 

Types of Lizards

Different types of Lizards

Different types of Lizards

There are over 6,000 different types of lizards throughout the entire world and it is quite impossible for us to touch on every single one of them here but we can talk about the most curious ones.  Most lizards have very common characteristics and are highly recognizable.

There are a few that may be a little less well known like the Komodo dragon and the blue tongued skink along with some other types that are intriguing.

 

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon, or sometimes called the Komodo monitor, live on the Indonesian Islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Montang and Padar where they dominate the food chain because of their size. They hunt, ambush, attack and bring down large mammals, invertebrates and birds.

The video is taken from BBC Earth

Komodo dragon usually paralyze their prey with toxic secretions (paralyzing saliva) that come from two lower jaw glands. They live and hunt in groups and their hunting style is the most exceptional of any other lizard. They usually eat dead animals, deer and wild pig. They are also known to attack humans if provoked.

Komodo Dragon feeding on bull

Komodo Dragon feeding on bull

They can get as large as 10 feet in length and weigh approximately 180 pounds. They have grayish stone like color with large prominent scales, strong agile necks, thick stout legs and long tails. Their tongues are forked and yellow, while their mouths and throats are extremely muscular to allow them to eat large chunks of meat fast.

They have a hinged-mouth like snakes that open super wide and they consume over 80% of their body weight in one meal. Their primary hunting sense is their sense of smell by using their forked tongues like snakes do to pick up the scent chemicals of nearby prey.

Komodo Dragon venom

Komodo Dragon venom

They can pick up the scent of just about anything from a shocking 2.5 miles away as they lumber along and shift their heads from side to side. The Komodo Dragon’s teeth are their deadliest weapons which are serrated, large, curved and rip and tear flesh with precision. They have venom sacks and bacteria in their saliva.

Even if the prey were to escape their attack, they would be dead within one week. Other dragons however are not affected by other Komodos venom or bacteria and scientists are trying to find their antibodies that protect them from infection.

Komodo Dragon mating

Komodo Dragon mating

Mating season runs from May to August and the most dominant males will wrestle upright supported by their huge thick tails for the females of their choice. They will use their front legs to knock the other dragon to the ground and there is usually bloodshed. The defeated dragon will either scatters or lay still on the ground stunned.

The females will use either a self-dug hole or megapode nests, which are large chicken type of birds native to the Indonesian islands. They lay anywhere from 20-30 eggs. The incubation period lasts about nine months and the female will lay atop the nest at times to protect their young but there is no proof that the young hatchlings have any connection or protection after coming out of the nest.

Baby Komodo Dragon

Baby Komodo Dragon

Most of the time the young Komodo dragons will hide in trees because the adults that are more aggressive and less tolerant of them will actually feast upon them. The baby Komodos weigh a mere 6.5 ounces and are only 16 inches long. Often times they are eaten by other dragons or larger prey before they reach the age of five. The baby Komodo dragon eat smaller lizards, snakes and insects. If they live to see many days, the average lifespan of the Komodo dragon is about 30 years.

 

Gila Monster

Gila Monster

Gila Monster

The Gila monster is a venomous lizard with a seriously bad reputation. It has been said that they jump feet in the air and attack their victims, spit venom and sting with their tongues or worse yet breathe poisons on humans and kill them.

Gila monster live in the South-western United States and in the Northern Mexican state of Sonora. The Gila is a very heavy lazy lizard and grows to lengths as big as 22 inches. Their body mass or weight can range from 1.5 pounds to an astounding 5 pounds.

Gila Monster skin

Gila Monster skin

They are the only venomous lizard in North America and the only native lizard that is by far the largest. Their bodies are heavily armored with bead-like scales that are black, yellow and pink in color. The armor cover them completely except for their bellies.

The video above is directly taken from Coyote Peterson

Gila Monsters get their nasty reputation from people who have been bitten by them saying that their bite is excruciating and makes them very ill. The bite of a Gila monster is painful and deadly to smaller prey. In their lower jaw, there is a row of glands that excrete venom through tiny grooves in their teeth.

Gila Monster Mouth

Gila Monster Mouth

By capillary action, the venom shoots in to the wound caused by the bite, sometimes the Gila will gnaw and chew to cause more venom to flow into the wound. The Gila monsters bite is not deadly to humans but most times getting them to let go will be the biggest problem you may have. They are very sluggish and lazy, they generally hide from people and are slow to move or attack posing a very minimal threat to us.

Gila Monster opens their mouth to warn the others of their fear

Gila Monster opens their mouth to warn the others of their fear

The Gila Monster will warn their victims well in advance of their fear by opening their mouths wide and hissing. So better heed their warnings and just move along. It is a solitary creature who dwells in deserts and semi-desert climates.

They don’t make their homes often in burrows along craggy foothills and shrubs. The Gilas are daunted by extreme heat and will hunt at night or at dusk if the temperatures are too extreme during the day. They will spend 90% of their time underground and not in open farmland or forestry. They are slow runners but built for aerobic and endurance and are great climbers. The Gila Monsters are prey to raptors and coyotes and will put up a great fight if threatened.

Gila Monster is climbing the tree after spotting a rattlesnake

Gila Monster is climbing the tree after spotting a rattlesnake

The Gila monster eats primarily small birds, mammals, frogs, rotting animal carcasses and insects. Their favorite meals are bird and reptile eggs but they generally only hunt their prey and eat about five to ten times annually.

Gila Monster tail

Gila Monster tail

Their tails are a huge support in times of famine as it is a huge storage compartment for their food to later fuel what little energy they have. When they capture larger prey they will crush them to death and if the prey is small they will swallow its head first and entirely whole.

Gila Monsters mating

Gila Monsters mating

Their mating season is between May and June and the males search out the females using their tongues as guides. If the female rejects the males advances she will bite him and crawl away but if she welcomes him their copulation will last anywhere from 15 minutes to 2½ hours.

Gila Monster laying egg

Gila Monster laying egg

The female will bury their eggs between July and August 5 inches below the sand and will lay anywhere from 2 to 12 eggs. The eggs incubation period is approximately 9 months long and when the hatchlings emerge they are about 6 inches long and can bite and inject venom.

The females generally only sit near or on the nest during the evening hours to stay out of the heat of the days. After hatching, all Gila monsters start hibernation around November to early February.

Blue Tongued Skink

Blue Tongue lizard

Blue Tongue lizard

The Blue Tongued Skink or otherwise known as the Blue Tongue Lizard are found in Australia and of course, as their name suggests, they have a large blue tongue that is used to warn potential predators to beware. There are exceptions in the Blue Tongued skinks species being strictly Australian where other sub-groups have been found in New Guinea and Indonesian Islands.

The Blue Tongue Skinks can be found in forests, deserts, grasslands and Bushland habitats. They are daytime omnivores scavenging the grounds for insects, fruits, berries, flowers and snails. Their average length is about 20 inches.

Video taken from HowCast

They have black and brown patchy scales and are low to the ground. Also, they have overlapping scales to keep sand, dirt and debris out of their skin. The blue tongue skinks’ body are wide and flat. They are slower than other lizards because of their short legs and are larger than their other mate the Eastern Blue Tongued Skink.

The Eastern Blue Tongue Skink

The Eastern Blue Tongue Skink

The Eastern Blue Tongued Skink is short with brown or grey scales. They have a striped pattern across their bodies and tails.  Both Blue Tongues Skinks (the australian ones and the eastern ones) usually weigh about 10 to 20 ounces and can live up to 30 years.

The Blue Tongue Skinks eggs

The Blue Tongue Skinks eggs

Both species of Blue tongues give birth to live young and can have a litter of up to twenty at a time. The younglings eat their egg sacs immediately after birth and tend to be on average about 4 inches long. If they have enough food they will grow very quickly and be adult size in about 1 year.

Other sub-groups lay their eggs but carry the soft shelled eggs in their body for the entire duration of incubation. These soft shelled eggs are hatched in the female’s body and expelled after the birth of the hatchlings. Both have no teeth to speak of but have a powerful bite that will be quite painful. They will shed their tails if pulled by a predator or grabbed by the tail so they can flee to underbrush or into logs.

 

Horned Lizard

Horned Lizard

Horned Lizard

The Horned Lizard is probably best known for shooting bloody goo from its eyes as it faces off with a predator. They can shoot this gore up to 3 feet and are a very crafty and sneaky lizard. They are great at playing hide and seek with their predators and they can change their colors to camouflage themselves much like chameleons.

Bloody goo from these Horned Lizards' eyes

Bloody goo from these Horned Lizards’ eyes

They have short stout bodies and snouts and resemble that of a frog or toad, hence the often named horny toad or horned frog. They are desert dwellers and have special spines on their backs and sides that are a type of modified reptile scales that keep their moisture from leaking out of their skin.

Their homes in deserts spread from Arizona, Texas and other states along with western Mexico. The horned lizards diet is comprised of ants, grasshoppers, spiders and other invertebrates. They sit and wait for the unsuspecting victim to come into reach and then quickly snatch it up using their tongues and eat it whole.

Video taken from Nat-Geo Wild

They are preyed upon by hawks, roadrunners, coyotes, squirrels, cats, dogs, mice and snakes. These horned lizards foraging nature tends to lend themselves to becoming a victim more times than not. If their blood spitting attempt failed, they will puff up their bodies to appear too large to eat and flattening themselves close to the ground so the predator can’t get their jaws under them.

The blood tastes foul to cats, dogs and coyotes so most of the times this technique will work. However birds seem to be less put off by this, creating a further need for the lizard to attempt something else.

Horned Lizard mating

Horned Lizard mating

Mating starts in early to late April and peaks about June and ends in July. The eggs are laid in mid-August and some species will carry the eggs until right before hatching occurs. Some lay the eggs in burrows under the sand a few weeks before hatching occurs and the number of hatchlings range from 10 to 30.

Baby Horned Lizard

Baby Horned Lizard

When the Horned Lizard hatchlings emerge they are on average about 7/8 to 1 1/8 inches long and most will immediately bury themselves in the sand. They are not nurtured or protected by the adults and have to start hunting for their food immediately after hatching.

The horned lizards, especially in Texas, are rapidly declining in numbers. The reasons to the decline are vast from being prey to domesticated dogs and cats, and killing off by humans. Also the devastating destruction of their natural habitats by commercial and industrial uses is one of the biggest reasons of their decline.

 

Savannah Monitor

Savannah Monitor

Savannah Monitor

The Savannah Monitor is a medium-sized lizard found specifically in the grasslands and savannahs all over central Africa. They are very close to the ground on short legs, have short thick necks, a broad head and body. The Savannah Monitor normally weigh around 11 to 13 pounds and have a length of 2 to 5 feet.

Savannah Monitor Habitat

Savannah Monitor Habitat

Depending on their habitat, their coloring ranges from a dull gray to a vibrant yellow and their bellies are normally a darker gray to brownish in color. The Savannah Monitor has large scales across their bodies and smaller more condensed scales on their tails, head and snout. They usually live in termite mounds, self-dug mounds and in alcoves of trees but have been known to live in the upper branches of trees because they are adept at climbing.

Savannah Monitor

Savannah Monitor

The Savannah Monitor’s diet consists of crickets, beetles, eggs, small mammals, frogs, reptiles and scorpions but in certain habitats the monitor has become immune to poisonous millipedes and can eat those as well. They do most of their feasting during the wet season as it is considered feast or feminine in their regions of Africa.

During the dry season they live mostly on their fat stores to get them through. The mating season also starts during the wet season and when a male finds a mate it will display head bobbing and sometimes bite and scratch the female’s legs and bodies.

The copulation may last several hours and after a few weeks the female will dig her own nest and lay 20 to 50 eggs. Incubation lasts from 5 to 6 months and most will be fully hatched around March. They are extremely small when they are born, weighing a mere 0.7 ounces and on average a length of about 5 inches.

Savannah Monitor baby

Savannah Monitor baby

After about 4 weeks the baby Savannah’s will start to hunt for their own food and go off on their own. Even though they are hunted for their leather and meat and are extremely popular with the lizard pet trade, their numbers stay robust and continue to thrive.

 

Conclusion

There are over 6,000 different species and sub-orders of lizards that one is hard pressed to name or even think about them all. These few mentioned above are some of the most notorious and the best examples of lizards throughout the world. They are on almost every continent and vary diversely but have common characteristics as well.

The lizards of the world are fascinating and are quite magnificent indeed. There are only a select few that are venomous but most are fierce fighters to the end and have skilful predatory natures. Their reproduction, social and hunting methods vary widely even in the same sub-orders.

Visit your local zoos or get out there in your own back yard and view some of the most diverse and glorious creates on Earth, Lizards!


References

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/lizard

http://www.livescience.com/56017-lizard-facts.html

https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/komodo-dragon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komodo_dragon

http://www.desertusa.com/reptiles/horned-lizard.html

http://www.hornedlizards.org/horned-lizards.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horned_lizard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphisbaenia

http://www.whatdolizardseat.info/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue-tongued_skink

https://www.zoo.org/page.aspx?pid=1932#.WKcFxzsrKM8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_blue-tongued_lizard

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/gila-monster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gila_monster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autarchoglossa

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lizard

http://reptilesmagazine.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savannah_monitor

http://www.waza.org/en/zoo/choose-a-species/reptiles/lizards-and-tuatara/varanus-exanthematicus-albigularis

http://bluetongueskinks.net/care