Discover 10 Extinct Lizard Species

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: July 5, 2023
© J. Terrier / public domain – License / Original
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Ever since the disappearance of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, reptiles have had it pretty easy to extinction as they are not nearly as susceptible to environmental changes as birds, mammals, and amphibians. Lizards first arose on Earth about 200 million years ago, and there are roughly 5,000 species of lizards today. Most lizards have long bodies, short necks, small heads, and movable eyelids. Like many other reptiles, lizards are negatively impacted by habitat loss, climate change, predation, and the illicit pet trade. As a result, many have vanished from the face of the Earth. So, what are the lizard species that have already become extinct?

Despite not being as popular in the animal kingdom as elephants and lions, lizards serve a crucial role in the ecosystem. This is why climate scientists are extremely concerned about a recent study showing that more than 20% of reptiles may go extinct due to the growing climate disaster. If this turns out to be accurate, it might harm biodiversity all across the planet. In this article, we will discover the 10 extinct lizard species and other interesting facts.

10 Extinct Lizard Species

1. Guadeloupe Ameiva

Based on specimens collected by early European explorers, the Guadeloupe ameiva was a Teiidae lizard species unique to Guadeloupe. The fossil record reveals that it formerly inhabited Guadeloupe, La Désirade, Marie-Galante, and the Îles des Saintes, but more recently, it was confined to Grand Ilet, just offshore of Petit-Bourg. Since it was last seen in 1914, its extinction most likely occurred when a hurricane devastated the region in 1928. According to reports, the Guadeloupe ameiva was a lizard that lived on the ground and ate carrion and vegetation (including dead individuals of its species).

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2. Martinique Giant Ameiva

martinique giant ameiva
The Martinique giant ameiva was a slender, 18-inch-long lizard.

©Mougoot, Dumeril, Bibron / public domain – License

The lizard known as the Martinique giant ameiva belonged to the Teiidae family. It can only be identified based on museum specimens that early European explorers brought back. There are stories that the Martinique giant ameiva may have perished by a hurricane that utterly destroyed its natural habitat rather than by human settlers.

The Martinique giant ameiva was a slender, 18-inch-long lizard distinguished by its pointed head and forked snake-like tongue. Ameivas are widespread in the Caribbean and South and Central America, but not on the island of Martinique, where the native species has long since gone extinct.

3. Jamaican Giant Galliwasp

Jamaican Giant Galliwasp
The Jamaican giant galliwasp never entirely adjusted to human society and was extinct by the 1840s.

©Simon J. Tonge / CC BY 3.0 – License

The sinking galliwasp, commonly known as the Jamaican giant galliwasp, was a part of the Diploglossidae family of lizards. Locals reported unverified sightings in the middle of the 19th century when it was last documented, and introduced predators like mongooses may have decimated and wiped out its population. Galliwasps are widespread in the Caribbean; other native species can be found in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. The Jamaican giant galliwasp never entirely adjusted to human society and was extinct by the 1840s. We still don’t fully understand the resilience of galliwasps to ecological pressure since they are enigmatic, secretive, and hunt primarily at night.

4. Cape Verde Giant Skink

Cape Verde Giant Skink
The Cape Verde giant skink vanished in the early 20th century.

©J. Terrier / public domain – License

The islets of Branco and Raso in the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean were once home to the Cape Verde giant skink species, which has since disappeared due to habitat damage caused by humans. Skinks are just as susceptible to extinction as any other animal; thus, the Cape Verde giant skink vanished in the early 20th century, and the species was formally declared extinct in 2013.

The most diverse lizards in the world, skinks — not to be confused with skunks — can be found in deserts, mountains, and arctic regions. The local residents of the Cape Verde Islands, who valued this reptile for its priceless “skink oil,” did not help this species to adapt.

5. Delcourt’s Giant Gecko

Delcourt's Giant Gecko
The Delcourt’s giant gecko had a snout-to-vent length (SVL) of 370 mm (14.6 in).

©Lamiot / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

The Diplodactylidae family of lizards includes the extinct species known as the Delcourt’s giant gecko. With a snout-to-vent length (SVL) of 370 mm (14.6 in) and a total length (including tail) of at least 600 mm (23.6 in), the species was the biggest known gecko. The specimen’s origin is uncertain, though New Zealand and New Caledonia have been proposed.

In the late 19th century, human settlements pushed this species to extinction. A Maori chieftain killed the last known Delcourt’s giant gecko sometime around 1873. His thorough description of the reptile was enough to persuade naturalists that he had made a legitimate sighting even though he didn’t bring the body back with him as proof.

6. Navassa Curly-Tailed Lizard

The Navassa curly-tailed lizard is an extinct lizard from the family of curly-tailed lizards (Leiocephalidae) endemic to Navassa Island. The holotype has a 64 mm (2 and 1⁄2 in) snout-vent length (SVL). Scales on the dorsum are dark gray with nine dark transverse bands, while the head and ventral scales are smooth. The basal half of the tail is pale with transverse bars, while the posterior half is consistently dark gray to black. Scales on the throat, breast, belly, and extremities are brown with pale tips. Although the cause of its demise is uncertain, cat predation is one theory.

7. Martinique Curly-Tailed Lizard

The curly-tailed lizard family (Leiocephalidae) includes the extinct Martinique curly-tailed lizard. It was last recorded in the 1830s, but its biology, the causes of its extinction, and the precise date of extinction remain unclear. The large dorsal scales were keeled and formed a continuous oblique series, whereas the huge head scales were more or less clearly striated. The back was a greenish-brown color with or without irregular crossbands of yellow. The venter was yellowish, and the head had four or five black stripes on the sides.

8. Mauritian Giant Skink

Mauritian Giant Skink
The Mauritian giant skink was exclusively found in Mauritius.

©Abu Shawka / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

A huge (the biggest known) extinct skink species is called the Mauritian giant skink. It was exclusively found in Mauritius, but around 1600, introduced predators presumably caused it to go extinct. It was closely connected to an undescribed extinct Leiolopisma from Réunion, whereas the Round Island skink is a more distantly related living species from Mauritius.

When it was alive, this animal’s behavior was not well understood or recorded by travelers to Mauritius, but many features of it, including its nutrition and other behaviors, can probably be predicted based on skink species still alive today. The Mauritian giant skink most likely shared behavioral characteristics, including nutrition and speed, with many other ground-dwelling skinks, including the blue-tongued skink. It presumably consumed various foods, including small invertebrates, small lizards, fruits, and plants, as it was an opportunistic omnivore. Its temperament was probably very similar to that of modern ground skinks, and it was a very tame creature with no fear of people, which may have contributed to its extinction.

9. Eastwood’s Long-Tailed Seps

A lizard species in the Cordylidae family named Eastwood’s long-tailed seps was unique to South Africa. Its native environment was high-altitude subtropical or tropical grassland. Unfortunately, the grasslands where this species originally lived have been completely eliminated, and its habitat has been heavily planted with eucalyptus and pinus tree species for commercial purposes. Since no specimens have been discovered since 1911, it is currently considered extinct. Searches throughout the remnant grasslands have not confirmed that any surviving specimens remain.

10. Megachirella Wachtleri

The only known species of the extinct stem-squamate genus Megachirella is Megachirella wachtleri, which existed roughly 240 million years ago in the Middle Triassic. Squamates are among the most numerous and diverse animals on Earth, yet researchers are still learning a surprising amount about their early evolutionary history. The fossilized Megachirella wachtleri, known today as the “mother of all lizards,” was unearthed in the Italian Alps 20 years ago. It is thought that this species bridges the gap between snakes and lizards and helps determine the precise moment at which they officially diverged into separate species. Before that split, this creature already existed!

The species is 75 million years older than what we previously believed to be the world’s oldest lizard fossil, and this recent find is already assisting paleontologists in better understanding how lizards and snakes thrived in the past and ultimately gave rise to the scaly animals we see today. For some time, researchers were unsure what to do with this fossil. The fact that it was a solitary fossil discovered and embedded deeply and delicately in the rock made it difficult to pinpoint its exact position within the reptile lineage. Modern technology allowed researchers to create a 3D image of the object and clearly discern its distinctive features. This 3-inch fossil from 240 million years ago helps scientists grasp the appearance of the planet’s first lizards and reptiles.

Summary of 10 Extinct Lizard Species

Here’s a recap of 10 lizard species that are extinct, which we took a look at.

NumberLizard SpeciesOriginExtinction Status
1Guadeloupe AmeivaGuadeloupeLast seen in 1914
2Martinique Giant AmeivaMartiniqueMay have perished by a hurricane that destroyed its habitat
3Jamaican Giant GalliwaspJamaicaExtinct by the 1840s
4Cape Verde Giant SkinkIslets of Branco and Raso in the Cape Verde IslandsDeclared extinct in 2013
5Delcourt’s Giant GeckoOrigin is uncertain; New Zealand and New Caledonia have been proposedLast known specimen killed around 1873
6Navassa Curly-Tailed LizardNavassa IslandCause of its demise is uncertain; cat predation is one theory
7Martinique Curly-Tailed LizardMartiniqueLast recorded in the 1830s; cause and date of extinction remain unclear
8Mauritian Giant SkinkMauritiusIntroduced predators presumably caused it to go extinct around 1600
9Eastwood’s Long-Tailed SepsSouth AfricaConsidered extinct as no specimens seen since 1911
10Megachirella WachtleriFossils found in Italian AlpsExisted roughly 240 million years ago in the Middle Triassic

The Featured Image

Cape Verde Giant Skink
© J. Terrier / public domain – License / Original

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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