7 Lizards in Your Garden: How to Identify

Five-lined Skink Lizard on the sand.
© James DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Written by Hailey Pruett

Updated: June 26, 2023

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Depending on where you live, your backyard is likely home to a diverse array of many unique types of plants, fungi, and animals. Some of the most common visitors you’ve likely noticed in your garden are various kinds of lizards, both big and small. 

However, if you don’t know what exact species your reptilian guests belong to, you may be hesitant about feeding, interacting with, or allowing them to continue living in your space. Alternatively, you may want to better understand the lizards so you know how to better accommodate them! After all, many species are beneficial to have around and eat various insect pests.

Below are seven of the most widespread species of lizards on the planet:

There’s quite a variety out there; What’s in your garden?

Read on and learn how to identify these lizards when you see them munching on plants and insects in your garden!

1. Common Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti)

Common Garden Skink

The common garden skink can be good to have around, as they eat many destructive insects.

©I Wayan Sumatika/Shutterstock.com

These unassuming little brown lizards seem to be everywhere! Their geographical range extends from Australia all the way to parts of India, South Africa, and even much of the United States. It’s even been found in parts of eastern and western Europe, so it’s safe to say the common garden skink is here to stay in our gardens.

These small yet hardy lizards have the typical skink body shape, from their narrow snouts and slender bodies to their long tails and teeny-tiny claws. They are typically drab, uniform brown in color, with two darker stripes extending down the sides of the head, neck, and body. Some individuals may have a more reddish or auburn color around their heads and necks.

Spotting and identifying a garden skink can be difficult. They blend in well with foliage and are only around 4 to 5 inches long. Thankfully, the common garden skink is a welcome addition to most gardens. This is because although they are omnivores, they prefer feeding on various small insect and invertebrate pests. Still, if you want to offer them some fruit from time to time, they definitely won’t turn it down!

2. Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)

oriental garden lizard

Over the years, oriental garden lizards have spread from eastern Asia all the way to the United States.

©PINKU HALDER/Shutterstock.com

The oriental garden lizard is another species that, thanks to humans, has an absolutely massive geographical range. Though they are native to much of the Middle East and Asia, they’ve also been introduced to other parts of the world like the US and Australia. Today, they’re commonly spotted in both rural and urban areas alike thanks to their adaptable, hardy nature. They’ve even become popular in the pet trade!

These handsome agamid lizards have narrow, pointed snouts and a row of prominent spines extending from the base of the neck down to the base of the tail. The spines are most visible near the neck and get much smaller towards the tail. Their tails are extremely long and thin and make up much of their total body length. 

If measured from snout to tail tip, they can reach lengths of 15+ inches. From snout to vent, however, adult oriental garden lizards are usually only around 4 to 6 inches long.

Oriental garden lizards vary in color from greyish orange to yellowish-brown. Males typically develop a bright orange or red head and neck coloration during the lizards’ breeding season.

3. Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)

Invasive Lizards - Tropical House Gecko

Many people in the Caribbean Islands consider these little

geckos

to be good luck!

©DOME PRATUMTONG/Shutterstock.com

The tropical house gecko thrives in warm, humid conditions. Though they’re originally native to sub-Saharan Africa, they’ve since spread to the Americas and parts of the Caribbean Islands. Nowadays, they’re commonly spotted in homes and gardens throughout these regions, chowing down on any little insects and invertebrates they can find.

These little geckos range from around 4 to 6 inches in length and are mostly a mottled brown color. Since they are nocturnal, they’ve evolved to develop very large, protruding eyes to help them capture prey at night. It is capable of changing color from light to dark brown to better blend in with surrounding foliage when needed. 

Tropical house geckos are perhaps most recognizable due to their unique vocalizations. These vary from short chirps to loud, shrill squeaking or even high-pitched “barking” sounds. If you see one of these wide-eyed geckos in your home or garden, consider keeping them around, as they are harmless to humans, non-aggressive, and can help to control insect pest populations. Some traditional Caribbean cultures even consider them to be good luck!

4. Common Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

Five-lined Skink Lizard on the sand.

Baby five-lined skinks are easily recognizable thanks to their bright blue tails.

©James DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever seen a common five-lined skink, you are probably most familiar with their blue-tailed juvenile form. As babies, they have vibrant, sapphire-blue tails, which gradually fade as they age into adulthood. 

Regardless of their age or size, though, all individuals have five parallel, distinctive yellow or off-white lines stretching from their snouts to their tails. Their base body color is usually brown or black.

This lizard’s body shape is typical for a smaller variety of skink, with a narrow snout and long, thin body and tail. They have very slender, small arms with tiny claws to help with climbing and digging. Males of the species typically develop bright orange coloring around their heads as adults.

Like most of the other lizards on this list, five-lined skinks have a wide geographic range that includes much of North America’s eastern coasts as well as the American Midwest. They primarily feed on small insects and invertebrates like crickets, spiders, and termites. Examining them up close can be difficult, as they are very shy and fast-moving, mostly preferring to stay concealed amongst leaf litter, logs, and rocks.

5. Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

What Do Blue Belly Lizards Eat - On a Fence Post

The eastern fence lizard’s striking blue belly makes it easily recognizable.

©Isabel Eve/Shutterstock.com

Another species commonly spotted in gardens throughout the United States and parts of Mexico is the eastern fence lizard. These hardy little brown lizards look pretty drab from a distance, but the males sport bright blue scales on their bellies! This unique trait has given them the common name “blue-bellied lizard.” Male eastern fence lizards often flash these colorful scales at each other to claim their territory and woo potential mates.

Small in size, this species typically reaches lengths of around 4 to 7 inches from snout to tail tip. Their mottled brown coloration helps them blend in well with the densely wooded areas they prefer to inhabit. As insectivores, the lizards feed on a variety of small invertebrates, from spiders and millipedes to crickets and ants.

If you spot an eastern fence lizard in your garden, it may be best to simply leave them be. In general, they are shy, timid, and harmless towards humans.

6. Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

blue belly lizard on tree trunk

Like their eastern counterparts, western fence lizards also have blue bellies!

©iStock.com/Sundry Photography

Also worth mentioning here is the aforementioned eastern fence lizard’s close relative: the western fence lizard! At a distance, the two look nearly identical, and they inhabit a very similar geographic range. Males within the species also display the unique “blue-bellied” trait, which they also use for claiming territory and courtship purposes.

As you might imagine, while the eastern fence lizard mostly lives throughout the eastern United States, its western cousin prefers the west coast. It is most widespread in California, but it also occupies much of the western US in general and has even spread to Mexico.

Also like its eastern counterpart, western fence lizards are small in size and mostly mottled brown or black in color. From snout to tail tip, they range from about 6 to 8 inches as adults. Both males and females can technically have blue belly scales, though the trait is much more common amongst males.

7. Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

group-of-green-iguanas-by-a-lake

Green

iguanas

can be destructive, especially if they decide to feast on the plants in your garden.

©iStock.com/passion4nature

Finally, we come to the largest lizard on our list and potentially the most destructive due to its tragically invasive status: the green iguana. It’s also the most easily identifiable, with its handsome green coloration, prominent spines extending from head to tail, and absolutely massive size. Despite their bulky build, green iguanas are fast on land and even faster in the water!

If you live somewhere in Central America, the southern United States, or the Caribbean Islands, you’ve no doubt seen one of these mini-Godzillas (or perhaps a group of them) in your back yard or at your local park. They’ve become very accustomed to human interaction and are fairly docile, provided you don’t get too close to any territorial males during their mating season. 

Though their primary body color is green, they can range from a bright lime green to a greyish brown or even orange. Males commonly develop a more vibrant orange coloration during the lizards’ breeding season to attract mates. Juveniles also tend to be much more vibrant than adults. 

Unfortunately, as they are voracious herbivores and highly invasive animals, green iguanas can be very destructive to gardens.


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About the Author

Hailey "Lex" Pruett is a nonbinary writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering reptiles and amphibians. They have over five years of professional content writing experience. Additionally, they grew up on a hobby farm and have volunteered at animal shelters to gain further experience in animal care. A longtime resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, Hailey has owned and cared extensively for a wide variety of animals in their lifetime, including cats, dogs, lizards, turtles, frogs and toads, fish, chickens, ducks, horses, llamas, rabbits, goats, and more!

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