Lizards are cold-blooded reptiles that make up a diverse group of animals. Reptiles are generally small, which makes them susceptible to harm from many types of predators. Consequently, many lizards with spikes evolved to appear more intimidating, which increased their chances of survival.
Keep reading to learn about eleven types of spikey lizards, where they live, and what their spikes are used for!
#1: Thorned Dragon (Moluch horridus)
The thorned dragon, also known as the thorny devil, mountain devil, and thorny lizard, is native to sandplains in Australia. Its entire body is covered with non-overlapping scales and numerous spikes. The exact number of spikes on their body is unknown.
Even though the thorned dragon might look scary, they are not a threat to people. Their spikes are mostly non-calcified, which means they aren’t sharp. They are also non-aggressive lizards and prefer to freeze to avoid trouble than to fight. In fact, humans are more of a danger to these reptiles than vice versa.
The primary purpose of the thorned dragon’s spikes is to scare away predators. They lack the strength or size to defend themselves against many of their most dangerous foes. Therefore, their spiky appearance gives them more of an edge, increasing their chances of survival.
#2: Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)
The Desert Horned Lizard is one of the lizards with spikes that makes its home in western North America and Mexico. As their name suggests, they prefer dry, arid climates, and thrive in the desert. Their largest populations are in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. Sometimes, they are called horny toads. However, they are in fact lizards, not toads!
Desert Horned Lizards have a row of spikes at the base of their heads. Even though they prefer to hide or run from perceived threats, they aren’t defenseless. They can push their spikes outward when held to startle people. They also have the ability to squirt blood out of their eyes. Lastly, they can puff themselves up when threatened, which makes them look larger and more threatening.
#3: Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
The Green Iguana, otherwise known as the common iguana, is one of the most well-known lizards with spikes on the planet. They are native to tropical and subtropical forests and are arboreal, which means they spend most of their lives in the canopies of trees.
Green Iguanas have a row of spikes along the peaks of their backs and down their tails. Although they may look ominous, these spikes are not dangerous. Despite their looks, these spines are not hard or rigid and serve the primary purpose of making the Green Iguana look more threatening than it is.
Like many other reptiles in their families, Green Iguanas prefer to avoid a fight. Even though they can use their tails to defend themselves when needed, they prefer to run or hide when danger is near. Green Iguanas are considered medium-sized lizards and can grow to be about 7 feet long and can weigh nearly 20 pounds when fully grown.
#4: Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
Bearded Dragons are beloved lizards with spikes that are among the most popular reptiles to keep as pets. Most of the world’s wild population of bearded dragons is found in Australia. However, captive-bred bearded dragons live almost everywhere people do.
Bearded dragons have several different types of spikes on their bodies. One set sticks out from the edges of their bodies and is soft and pliable. These spikes serve to make them appear rigid, which discourages predators from making them a meal. They also have tough spikes on their backs that serve the same purpose.
The spikes on the Bearded Dragon’s chin are perhaps their most iconic feature. When they feel threatened, they puff out a skin flap in this area that is covered in tiny spikes. This action makes them appear larger to their enemies.
#5: Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
Texas Horned Lizards are another example of lizards with spikes that live in dry, arid habitats. They are found mostly in the southern and central United States. They do reside across the state of Texas as their name suggests, but there are also big populations of them in neighboring areas like Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico.
Texas Horned Lizards have spikes across their backs and on the tops of their heads. The spikes on their heads are much longer than any others and give the lizard an intimidating appearance. These spikes allow the lizards to blend into their environment, which is sparse due to the dry conditions they prefer.
Despite their “scary” appearance, Texas Horned Lizards are completely harmless. They aren’t venomous nor are they aggressive. They prefer to keep a low profile and are solitary animals. This means they are happiest when they are alone.
#6: Spiny Tailed Lizard (Uromastyx maliensis)
The Spiny Tailed Lizard, commonly known as the Uromastyx, is a medium-sized lizard native to Africa, India, and the Middle East. They are desert-dwelling lizards with excellent temperaments, which makes them a popular option for pets. They are almost entirely herbivorous.
As their name describes, the Uromastyx’s tail is covered in small spikes. When compared to other lizards with spikes, the Uromastyx exhibits similar behaviors. For example, the spines that cover its tail are generally harmless but effective against intimidating predators. Even though the spikes aren’t sharp, a Spiny Tailed Lizard’s tail is quite strong. Consequently, it is the Uromastyx’s primary line of defense against threats and predators.
#7: Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)
The Oriental Garden Lizard is a small reptile found in indo-Malaysia. These pint-sized lizards with spikes spend most of their time near the ground, seeking refuge in low-hanging vegetation and on tree trunks. They are solitary animals and prefer to stay hidden, a survival tactic that makes it difficult for predators to capture them.
The uppermost section of the Oriental Garden Lizards’ back is lined with a neat row of spikes that stops a few inches from the base of their heads. These lizards can change the color of their spikes as well as other areas on their body. They change colors to communicate and with their moods.
Although their spikes aren’t sharp, these reptiles have no problem defending themselves. Oriental Garden Lizards are territorial in nature. They also have tiny, razor-sharp teeth that make them a formidable enemy against threats.
#8: Short-Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi)
Short-horned lizards are heat-loving reptiles that thrive in desert conditions. They primarily live across Canada and the United States, but populations can be found across Mexico and Guatemala, as well. Since they are cold-blooded, they love to bask in the sun and need heat to regulate their body temperature.
The Short-Horned Lizard’s most distinguishable feature is its crown of horns. These spines at the top of their heads help them look less appetizing to predators.
Like other lizards in their family, they can squirt blood from their eyes. This defense mechanism works primarily to confuse animals who threaten them. However, it also contains a neurotoxin that is harmful to wolves, coyotes, and even dogs. They can shoot blood out up to three feet away.
#9: Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)
The Eastern Fence Lizard is a medium-sized reptile that lives in the eastern United States. Their habitats are mainly grasslands and shrublands, though they also make their homes on the outskirts of forests. Their size makes them vulnerable to many predators, so they are known to take shelter under rocks, piles of wood, and logs.
Although Eastern Fence Lizards don’t have traditional spikes, they do possess keeled scales. This means that their scales aren’t smooth. Instead, their scales have a ridge down the center that comes to a point at the end. This characteristic gives them a spiky appearance which landed them on our list of lizards with spikes.
#10: Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
Jackson’s Chameleons are tropical-dwelling reptiles that live high up in the canopies of the rainforest. They have a single row of tiny spikes that goes down the upper portion of their back. Their prehensile tails are also capped with a row of spikes. They use their tails to steady themselves on branches!
Perhaps one of Jackson’s Chameleons most well-known traits is its ability to change color. This allows them to blend into backgrounds, communicate with other chameleons, and even reflect their mood! During mating season, male chameleons show off their bright colors to attract a female companion.
#11: Regal Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma solare)
Regal Horned Lizards live exclusively in the Sonoran desert. They are insectivores and some of their favorite foods include spiders, ants, and sowbugs. Since they are cold-blooded, they spend several hours at the beginning of each day basking in the sun, which helps them stay warm.
Regal Horned Lizards have small, flat bodies that are covered in tiny scales. They also have a crown of spikes at the tops of their heads that are no larger than the thorns of a rose. Many of their spikes are made of bones and are therefore sharp.