There are around 5,000 different species!
Lizard Scientific Classification
Lizard Conservation Status
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Lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata.
This includes the lizard suborder which bears the scientific name of Lacertilia, the snake suborder Serpentes, and the worm lizard suborder Amphisbaenia. Lizards are paraphyletic, which means that a small number of species share more in common with their sister suborders than they do with their own order of Lacertilia. There are more than 7,000 distinct lizard species in the world and the number is being revised upwards on a constant basis. While it might be assumed that limbed lizards descended from the limbless snakes, the opposite is true, and it is lizards that are the forebears of the snake family, not the other way around. Some form of this reptile is found on every continent of the world except for Antarctica.
6 Incredible Lizard Facts!
- Adult lizards range in length from the 2 cm (0.8 inch) of the smaller geckos to the 3 meters (10 feet) of the monitor lizards and weigh anywhere from less than ½ gram (.02 ounce) to 150 kg (330 pounds).
- With the sole exception of the Marine Iguana of the Galapagos Islands, all species bear the classification of land-based animals. Even the Marine Iguana spends much of its time sunning itself on rocks.
- Among those of the venomous lizard classification, the Gila Monster and the Beaded Lizard of the Southwestern United States and the Sonoran desert of Mexico are the most widely known. Some species of monitor lizards also possess various degrees of toxic venom.
- Several species possess the ability to voluntarily detach their tails, used primarily as a way of distracting predators, and then regenerate them at a later date.
- A number of species possess the ability to change color in order to camouflage themselves from predators or blend in with their surroundings in order to trap their own prey.
- As a general classification, these reptiles are ectothermic, which means that their body temperature is not fixed as in mammals but is dependent on the environmental conditions around them. Lizards all have ranges of ideal body temperatures where they function with maximum efficiency and are much less active when they cannot attain the proper degree of internal body heat.
Lizard Scientific Name
Lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata, which comes from the Latin “squamatus”, scaly or having scales. There are three suborders of Squamata: snakes, amphisbaenians (worm lizards), and lizards. Together, the three suborders comprise nearly 11,000 species and are the second largest group of vertebrates on the planet today.
Lizard Appearance & Behavior
As their presence in order Squamata makes clear, the primary characteristic of these reptiles is their scaly skin. With some exceptions, they have four legs, long tails, external ear openings, and movable eyelids. A notable feature of this reptile as well as all the other members of the order Squamata is the ability to open both their upper and lower jaws. This allows them to swallow much larger prey than is possible among those animals with just a movable lower jaw.
The popular image of a lizard as a low-slung creature that either writhes slowly or scampers quickly along close to the ground only applies to a limited number of lizard species. Among the thousands of variants, there are also lizards with long hind legs that run as bipeds, others that glide with skin flaps extended as rudimentary wings, and even other species which have no limbs and move in the same manner as a snake.
Males often display various types of ornamentation such as permanent horns and crests as well as features of a temporarily deployable nature such as large mane-like frills and crests that are designed to attract females or to frighten away predators by making the animal appear much larger and more threatening than it truly is.
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Long tongues are seen on many species. Some of these are intended for use as sensory probes employed in hunting while other limited numbers of species that do not have eyelids use their lengthy tongues as something similar to a windshield wiper for their eyes.
These reptiles come in many different colors, including species with bands of color, species with a tail of a different color when they are young, and several species that are capable of changing their color to better blend in with their surroundings. This last attribute, best known in the chameleon, is both an offensive and defensive attribute. It allows the individual lizard to foil predators looking for it and also disguises itself so that its own prey can be lured close enough for capture.
Although there are species that are plant-eaters at least in part, they are primarily predators who feed upon insects and other small creatures. Yet the largest lizard species, the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia, has been known to bring down and feed upon very large creatures such as water buffalo.
Characteristically, these lizards are generally classified as “sit and wait” hunters. This means that they take up station at a favorable place and then wait for their prey to come to them. Once a prospective victim comes within reach, they will either leap out and snap at it with their open jaws or use their long tongues to seize it and bring it into their mouth.
Males lead solitary lives and defend their chosen territorial hunting ranges from other males. Females can range freely but are often found in groups living in near proximity to a dominant male.
Due to their ectothermic nature, lizards are well known for sunning themselves in warm areas. This raises their body temperature towards the optimum level and allows them to perform functions such as hunting, mating, or fighting at full capacity. These reptiles prefer to live in places that are easily defensible such as holes or rock crevasses.
Their scaly skin allows scant evaporation so lizards require very little water apart from the moisture they glean from their food or even from the licked-off dew accumulating on their own bodies. This makes them ideally suited for the desert conditions where many lizard species are found.
Types Of Lizards
While it would be impossible to provide an inclusive list of species everywhere, here are a few examples of lizards from different parts of the globe.
Found in Africa, Asia, and the island chains leading to and including Australia, there are more than 70 distinct species of monitor lizards. Monitors are the largest of the lizards and include the famous Komodo Dragon as well as such others as the Nile Monitor of Egypt and the Perentie of Australia.
South America is home to the Caiman Lizard, which inhabits swampy lowlands and feeds primarily upon shelled creatures such as crayfish, freshwater clams, and snails. The Caiman lizard dumps these creatures into the back of its mouth, where its powerful jaws crush the shell of its prey. The broken shell is spit out and the soft parts of the creature are swallowed.
The famed Frilled Lizard is found in Australia and New Guinea. When in danger, the Frilled Lizard fans out the frill of skin that normally lays flat behind its neck and creates the illusion of a much larger and more menacing creature than it really is. It is also known for running on its hind legs with tail and forelegs held in the air.
The unique Armadillo Lizard is from South Africa. When in danger, it curls up and presents an armored ball that foils predators. Its overlapping scales give the appearance of it being a very tiny dragon. In addition, the Armadillo lizard is one of the few social reptiles that live in groups rather than as solitary hunters.
Now protected from further habitat destruction, the UK’s rare Sand Lizard is found among sand dunes and on sandy outcroppings on the verge of heathlands. As with many other threatened species, increasing population density is the primary cause of its downfall.
These reptiles inhabit every continent on Earth except for Antarctica. Certain species have been found in far northern reaches above the Arctic Circle and others at the inhospitable southern tip of South America.
With the thousands of species on the planet, there are lizards adapted for virtually all environmental and climatic conditions. In regions where their food sources are abundant, such as in tropical jungles, they can attain very large sizes. In places of limited supplies, smaller species tend to predominate.
There are lizards that prefer living in trees while others inhabit open areas where large quantities of sunshine are readily obtainable. Most of these reptiles are daylight species although there are a few night-specific lizards such as the gecko and one species, the Galapagos Marine Iguana, which lives primarily in the ocean.
Lizards are largely predatory in nature and are often so-called “sit and wait” hunters who remain motionless until their prey comes within reach. At this point, they dart out and grab it in a surprise attack before it can escape.
What do lizards eat?
Most lizards are carnivorous and feed upon insects, ants, and other invertebrates. Larger lizard species feed upon small animals such as mice and other rodents, and snails. Still larger species such as the monitor lizards can prey upon much larger quarry such as frogs, birds, fish, larger mammals, and even snakes.
Around 2% of lizard species are primarily vegetarians as adults, although younger members will eat meat and then gradually adopt a vegan diet as they reach adulthood. Fruit is often eaten even by carnivorous species, and bird and reptile eggs are frequently sought by larger lizards.
Lizard Predators and Threats
In nature, animal species must balance their own need to feed against the need of other species to use them as a food source. Just as predatory lizards are always on the hunt, so too are other predators searching for them.
What eats lizards?
Due to a lizard’s ability to move very swiftly when in danger, most lizard predators need to be fast-moving themselves.
Raptors are the primary threat to most lizard species. Their keen eyesight allows them to detect movement from very far away. This leads to lizard defenses such as changing colors to match terrain and remaining absolutely motionless in exposed locations.
Although not depending upon lizards as their primary food source, the swiftly-striking mongoose is well-suited for hunting lizards.
Just as lizards eat snakes, so too do snakes return the favor and eat lizards. Larger lizards are also known to prey upon smaller species.
The regal jumping spider, weighing in at only 2-3 gms, has been known to capture lizards more than three times its own size.
Since lizard meat is often considered to be a delicacy in some cultures, humans are the ultimate apex predator for lizards. This is particularly true of the iguana, which is prized for its meaty tail.
Since the vast array of species are generally engineered for life in a specific environmental zone and they are ectothermic, climate change can offer a serious threat to many species by either unfavorably altering the heat balance of the region or severely decreasing their preferred food supply.
Human-created sprawl also invades prime lizard habitat via such things as urbanization or deforestation. This can also lead to increases in predator population brought about by nearby habitat disruption of another species. This brings a large number of threat species into a formerly balanced ecosystem. As human populations continue to grow, additional pressure is placed upon those lizards which are considered to be a human food source.
Threatened Lizard Species
In a rapidly altering world, it is estimated that nearly 20% of all reptile species, which includes the lizards, are threatened to one degree or another. Among the most severely at risk are:
The Tarzan Chameleon of Madagascar, scientific name Calumma tarzani, which is generally green or yellow but adopting a striped pattern when threatened. The Tarzan Chameleon has been nearly wiped out by habitat destruction of forest cover in favor of agricultural development and gold mining in the region.
The Jamaican Rock Iguana, scientific name Cyclura collei, was actually believed to be extinct until a small colony was rediscovered in 1990. Currently numbering only about 100 individuals, the Jamaican Rock Iguana population collapsed by being hunted for food and faced with human-sponsored habitat invasion through the introduction of non-native predators such as dogs and pigs into the area. Human development activity in the region also reduces and degrades its remaining habitat potential.
Lizard Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
No one rule completely covers these reptile’s reproduction methods.
The majority of species use male sperm fertilization of a female’s internal eggs as a method of reproduction. In general, these eggs are laid in a safe place and abandoned thereafter, although some species employ females to brood upon the eggs until hatching.
About 1 out of every 5 types employ viviparity or live birth from eggs developed inside the female body and then born as functional members of the species rather than being hatched from eggs laid outside the body.
A few species reproduce via parthenogenesis or reproduction from eggs that do not require male fertilization. In rare cases, this has even been known to occur in non-parthenogenic lizard species where the female does not have access to a male.
When it comes to sex selection of the embryo, the eggs are known to be temperature-dependent in some cases. High temperatures during incubation produce more females and vice versa in low-temperature conditions.
The number of eggs laid by the female can vary from 5 percent of body weight up to as much as 50 percent. Depending on the size of eggs in the particular species, this can result in a clutch of as many as 50 small eggs or as few as a single large one.
Once laid, most eggs hatch within about 3 months time. Upon birth, the infants have no family life. They are totally on their own as miniature versions of the adult they will eventually grow into.
It is impossible to say how many lizards there are in the world. Some severely endangered species have been counted as part of their protection and recovery effort. It is almost certainly true that the number of lizards overall continues to decline even as the number of identified lizard species continues to climb.
Lizards In The Zoo
South Dakota might seem an unlikely place to find the world’s largest reptile zoo. Located 6 miles south of Rapid City, Reptile Gardens is officially the place.
Another underappreciated zoo is the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, which boasts both the world’s largest indoor desert and largest indoor rain forest.View all 45 animals that start with L
Lizard FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are Lizards herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Lizards are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.
What Kingdom do Lizards belong to?
Lizards belong to the Kingdom Animalia.
What class do Lizards belong to?
Lizards belong to the class Reptilia.
What phylum to Lizards belong to?
Lizards belong to the phylum Chordata.
What family do Lizards belong to?
Lizards belong to the family Lacertidae.
What order do Lizards belong to?
Lizards belong to the order Squamata.
What type of covering do Lizards have?
Lizards are covered in Scales.
In what type of habitat do Lizards live?
Lizards live in warm forests and deserts worldwide.
What is the main prey for Lizards?
Lizards prey on insects, birds, and small rodents.
What are some predators of Lizards?
Predators of Lizards include humans, birds, and snakes.
How many babies do Lizards have?
The average number of babies a Lizard has is 18.
What is an interesting fact about Lizards?
There are around 5,000 different species of Lizard!
What is the lifespan of a Lizard?
Lizards can live for 1 to 30 years.
Do lizards make good pets?
The facts are that some do and some don’t. Iguanas are often good pets since they are docile plant-eaters. Komodo Dragons are not good pets since they are vile-tempered meat-eaters that outweigh you by more than 2-1.
Are house lizards harmful to humans?
Not particularly. The main risk comes from salmonella, which some lizards may have in their bodies. On the other hand, they eat ants, termites, and other insects which might be more of an annoyance.
Are lizards good to have around your house?
Most people would be disturbed by swiftly skittering wild creatures zipping around at unexpected times and places. As a wild creature, they are probably best kept outside. As family pets kept in a herbarium, they are not a big problem.
How do you catch a lizard?
A simple string noose lowered gently around its head from in front will often do the trick. Another interesting idea is to put some plastic film over an open box. Cut a slit in the plastic for the lizard to fall through and place some kind of lizard-friendly food on top. The lizard gets up to eat the food, then falls through the slit and is captured.
What is the lifespan of lizards?
That depends on the species and whether they are in the wild or in captivity as pets or exhibits. Some common lizard species lifespans:
- Chameleon – 5-7 years
- Gekko – 10-15 years
- Iguana – 20 years
- Komodo Dragon – 40 years
How do Lizards have babies?
Lizards lay eggs.
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squamata
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/lizard
- Facts King, Available here: https://factsking.com/animal-facts/lizard-predators/
- World Atlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-most-threatened-reptiles.html
- Animals Network, Available here: https://animals.net/monitor-lizard/
- Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/caiman-lizard
- National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/frilled-lizard
- Everything Reptiles, Available here: https://www.everythingreptiles.com/armadillo-lizard/
- Bio Expedition, Available here: https://www.bioexpedition.com/lizard-reproduction/
- The Wildlife Trusts, Available here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/reptiles/sand-lizard
- Reptile Gardens, Available here: https://www.reptilegardens.com/animals/other-reptiles/lizards/
- Critter Control, Available here: https://www.crittercontrol.com/wildlife/lizard/lizards-in-the-house