Lizard

Last updated: January 4, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
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There are around 5,000 different species!

Lizard Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Lacertidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Lizard Conservation Status


Lizard Facts

Main Prey
Insects, Birds, Small rodents
Fun Fact
There are around 5,000 different species!
Habitat
Warm forests and deserts worldwide
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
18
Lifestyle
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
Insects
Type
Reptile
Slogan
There are around 5,000 different species!

Lizard Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • Tan
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Top Speed
15 mph
Lifespan
1-30 years
Weight
0.01-300kg (0.02-661lbs)

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Lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata.

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This includes the lizard suborder which bears the scientific name 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 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!

Monitor lizard looks off to left
These reptiles are ectothermic, which means that their body temperature is not fixed as in mammals but is dependent on environmental conditions.

©Ruben PH/Shutterstock.com



  • Adult lizards range in length from the 2 cm (0.8 inches) 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.

Scientific Name

Types of Green Lizards - Jeweled Gecko
Lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata, which comes from the Latin “squamates”, scaly or having scales.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata, which comes from the Latin “squamates”, 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.

Health and Entertainment for your Lizard

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Characteristics of Lizards

Lizards Look LIke Dragons - Armadillo Lizard
Lizards can range in size from less than an inch to 10 feet in length and have incredibly varied appearances.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Scales and Appearance

As their presence in order Squamata makes clear, the primary characteristic of these reptiles is their scaly skin. The scales themselves, made of keratin, act as an armor to seal in water that would otherwise evaporate, and protect it from varied environments, like dry deserts, for example.

The scales can come in a variety of structures, such as plate-like, smooth and overlapping, and ossified. As a lizard grows, it will shed its tough skin in pieces. Some lizards have spiny scales that protect them from predators.

With some exceptions, lizards have four legs, long tails, external ear openings, and movable eyelids. Their bodies are rounded, their necks short, and their heads are elevated. A notable feature of this reptile as well as all the other members of the order Squamata is the ability to open both its 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.

Long tongues are seen in 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.

In general, lizards have very good eyesight. Of all lizard species, chameleons have some of the most developed eyesight. They can see in a 360-degree field of vision and also in a wide range of colors and into the UV spectrum.

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.

Venom

10 Most Venomous Animals - The Mexican beaded lizard, one of the two species of venomous beaded lizards found principally in Mexico and southern Guatemala
The Mexican beaded lizard, one of the two species of venomous beaded lizards found principally in Mexico and southern Guatemala

©Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

Some lizards produce venom in their oral glands. Nine different toxins that are produced by snakes can also be found in lizards. One example is the toxins found in rattlesnake venom–the same toxins are present in the venom of a bearded dragon, which is a popular pet among lizard enthusiasts. Other venomous lizards include the Komodo dragon, Gila monster, Mexican bearded lizard, iguana, and lace monitor.

Scientists originally thought that some of these lizards simply thought that the harmful bacteria in the saliva in their mouths gave them their toxicity, but recent studies have put more lizards in the category “venomous” than before.

Lizard venom is not as dangerous to humans as it is to animals who fall victim to a toxic lizard’s bite. Symptoms can include a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, hemorrhaging, kidney failure, nerve failure, and muscle breakdown, leading to the animal’s death.

Behavior

Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon is one of the largest lizards in the world today.

©vladivlad/Shutterstock.com

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.

Apart from being a symbol of a mating call, they usually bob their heads as a way to look more intimidating to prey and predators. 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.

Largest and Smallest Lizards

Animals that reproduce asexually – Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world.

©Anna Kucherova/Shutterstock.com

The largest lizard species in the world is the Komodo dragon which can measure 10 feet in length. The largest Komodo dragon on record weighed 365 pounds. Most of the largest lizard species are monitor lizards, but some iguana species can grow to be quite large as well. Blue iguanas weigh around 31 pounds and reach 5 feet in length.

On the other end of the spectrum, the smallest lizard is the nano chameleon which measures less than an inch and lives in a small area of Madagascar. Incredibly, scientists first classified the nano chameleon as a species in 2021!

There are a number of extremely small chameleons on the northern end of Madagascar. It’s believed they shrunk as an adaptation to habitat loss.

Types Of Lizards

While it would be impossible to provide an inclusive list of species everywhere, here are a few examples of the types of lizards that can be found in different parts of the globe.

Monitor Lizard

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.

Caiman Lizard

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 spat out and the soft parts of the creature are swallowed.

Frilled Lizard

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 its tail and forelegs held in the air.

Armadillo Lizard

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.

Sand Lizard

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.

Additionally, here is a list of other types of lizards:

Habitat

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 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.

Diet

What Do Lizards Eat
Lizards mostly eat insects, but some species can also eat rodents, frogs, birds, and other lizards and reptiles.

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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 quarries 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.

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.

Human Predators

Humans are one of these reptiles’ biggest predators. Some see lizards as pests so they constantly try to get rid of them, especially in residential environments. It’s advisable to get rid of lizards using humane methods instead of killing them since some species are endangered already.

What eats lizards?

Closeup of sharp-shinned hawk in profile with blue sky backdrop
Large birds such as hawks are the primary threat to most lizard species.

©RJ Ridley/Shutterstock.com

Due to a lizard’s ability to move very swiftly when in danger, most lizard predators need to be fast-moving themselves.

Large birds such as hawks 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.

Most canine and feline species, certainly including dogs and domestic cats, will eat lizards.

Although not dependent 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.

Environmental Threats

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 habitats 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 threatened 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

The Tarzan Chameleon has been nearly wiped out by habitat destruction of forest cover in favor of agricultural development.

©FEDERICA21/Shutterstock.com

In a rapidly altering world, it is estimated that nearly 20% of all reptile species, which includes lizards, are threatened to one degree or another. Among the most severely at risk are:

The Tarzan Chameleon of Madagascar, scientific name Calumma tarzani, is generally green or yellow but adopts 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.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Baby Lazarus Lizard (Podarcis muralis) held in a person's hands.
Baby Lazarus Lizard (Podarcis muralis) held in a person’s hands.

©Furiarossa/Shutterstock.com

No one rule completely covers these reptiles’ 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 the 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.

Make sure to read our complete guide on baby lizards called ‘What’s a Baby Lizard Called + 4 More Amazing Facts.’

Population

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.

Zoo Miami is located in the heart of the reptile country and is a great place for the family to visit.

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.

Origin and Evolution of Lizards

Until the 13th century, lizards were categorized under the broad umbrella of reptiles, which included snakes, amphibians, and worms that laid eggs. In the early seventeenth century, James Macartney used the term Sauria, adapted from Sauriens which was coined by Alexandre Brongniart to describe a class of reptiles that were essentially lizards and crocodiles.

Although the denomination may be new, however, the origin of lizards is not. The earliest known lizard fossil, Tikiguania belonging to the iguanian species, was found in the Tiki Formation in India. However, there is doubt about the age of the fossil since it resembles modern-day agamid lizards.

They are related to Rhynchocephalia, an order of lizards whose only living species is the tuatara found in New Zealand.

Lizards and Human

Lizards have been a source of fascination due to their unique abilities specific to each species, such as the ability to grow lost limbs, blend in with the environment, see 360 degrees, climb vertically and stick to the ceilings upside down, walk on water and asexual reproduction.

They have been studied through the ages to determine if these qualities can be deciphered. Although they look scary, lizards are mostly harmless to humans, with the exception of Comodo Dragons who have been known to stalk and attack humans.

Despite all of the drawbacks, lizards are quite popular as pets. Especially the bearded dragons, chameleons, geckos, iguanas, monitors, tegu, and green anoles are some of the species that are popular as pets.

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Lizard FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do you catch a lizard?

If you have a lizard trapped in a home or a garden, transporting it generally isn’t difficult. When catching a lizard, first look to identify it. Remember that there are only 3 truly venomous lizards in the world – the Gila monster, Mexican beaded dragon, and Komodo dragon. Both beaded lizards and Gila monsters may be found in the Southwest of the United States. Once you’ve identified it, use supplies like thick leather gloves or a container to capture it. Finally, you can set a trap to capture it before releasing it into the wild.

Are lizards poisonous?

No lizards are poisonous, but some are venomous. A few examples include the Gila monster, the Mexican beaded lizard, and the Komodo dragon

How do you keep lizards away?

Lizards can be kept away with a number of household repellents such as hot sauce, garlic, coffee grounds, and citrus. In addition, you can keep entry points to your home clean and lawns well-maintained to avoid too many lizards.

What's the difference between lizards and salamanders?

Salamanders and lizards can often look very similar. The key difference is that lizards can live in a variety of environments while salamanders require being closer to water. In addition, salamanders have a “moist” appearance and lack claws and earholes.

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 7,000 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.

What's the difference between chameleons and lizards?

The greatest differences between a chameleon and a lizard are their tails, eyes, and tongues. Chameleons are known for their unique prehensile tails, and they are one of the few reptiles that possess them.

What Does Lizard Poop Look Like?

Lizard poop, it turns out, has a very distinct appearance–one you’re likely not to forget once you’ve seen it. It typically has a long brown or black pellet-shaped portion with a smaller, semi-solid white “cap” or substance at the end. While the brown portion is the lizard’s poop, the white part is essentially the lizard’s urine.

 

How long do lizards live?

In the wild, a lizard’s average lifespan is no more than 3-5 years. However, when living in captivity as pets, lizards are able to live anywhere between 20-50 years of age!

 

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squamata
  2. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/lizard
  3. Facts King, Available here: https://factsking.com/animal-facts/lizard-predators/
  4. World Atlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-most-threatened-reptiles.html
  5. Animals Network, Available here: https://animals.net/monitor-lizard/
  6. Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/caiman-lizard
  7. National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/frilled-lizard
  8. Everything Reptiles, Available here: https://www.everythingreptiles.com/armadillo-lizard/
  9. Bio Expedition, Available here: https://www.bioexpedition.com/lizard-reproduction/
  10. The Wildlife Trusts, Available here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/reptiles/sand-lizard
  11. Reptile Gardens, Available here: https://www.reptilegardens.com/animals/other-reptiles/lizards/
  12. Critter Control, Available here: https://www.crittercontrol.com/wildlife/lizard/lizards-in-the-house

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