Lizards and Snakes- The Differences Explained

Written by Emilio Brown
Published: February 1, 2022
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Reptiles are among the most interesting types of animals in the world. Snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and turtles are all reptiles. Even birds are considered reptiles and still have similarities between them! Snakes and lizards are some of the most common types of reptiles in the world and are closely related. Looking at these two animals you can easily spot the differences between them, but there may be more that you do not know about.

Snakes and lizards have a ton of similarities between them, but they are two separate types of animals. Let’s learn about the differences between snakes and lizards, and also how they’re alike.

What Are Lizards and Snakes?

Close-up view of a green tree python (Morelia viridis). The snake has a very distinguishable diamond-shaped head.
Snakes and lizards are closely related and belong to the same order named Squamata.

iStock.com/tane-mahuta

Lizards and snakes are both reptiles and belong to the order of Squamata. Over 10,000 species of animals belong to this group, with lizards having the most diversity. Squamata also includes amphisbaenians, or worm lizards, and is the largest group of reptiles. Lizards and snakes are closely related to one another and have many common features shared. They share features found across reptiles but are more closely related than other reptile orders.  

Common traits in lizards and snakes:

  • Scales cover their body
  • A majority of them are ectothermic (regulates body temperatures by outside sources such as sunlight)
  • Both are vertebrates with an evolved quadrate bone
  • Their tongues flick out of their mouth and pick up scents
  • Both are reptiles and belong to the order of Squamata 

Lizards and snakes have tons of similarities as they are close relatives, but there are a lot of differences between these animals as well. At first glance, they are easily told apart, but there are much more differences that you may not know about. 

Unique Snake Traits Compared to Lizards

garter snake slithering over rocks
The main distinguishing feature of snakes is their lack of limbs, but they also lack eyelids and ear holes.

An estimated 3,000+ snake species inhabit the world, with new species discovered regularly. Snakes may be closely related to lizards, but there are many unique things about them that are different. While both of these animals belong to the order of Squamata, snakes are in the suborder of Serpentes. 

The snake’s body type is easily distinguishable, as they have no legs or appendages. Snakes like the boa have small vestigial legs that are not capable of doing anything and are present on there from past evolutionary experiences. The lack of legs means that snakes must move by utilizing the muscles in their body to get around, using a movement called rectilinear locomotion. Snakes also have no eyelids and are not able to blink.

Since they have no earholes, snakes use the vibration of the ground to hear, using their inner ear.

A big difference between these two animals is how they eat. Snakes have teeth optimized for swallowing since they eat their prey whole. They have four different types of fangs. Some snakes have specialized teeth to administer venom when bitten, while others, like the hognose snake, administer venom by nibbling on prey. Almost all snakes swallow their food whole when eating and stretch their mouths. 

Snakes are more likely to be venomous, and there are around 600 different types of species of venomous snakes. Lizards are much less dangerous, but there is a large diversity of them to be found. 

Why Lizards Are Unique

European legless lizard, Pallas's glass lizard
Legless lizards are an example of lizards without limbs. However, they have ear holes and can blink.

Dr.MYM/Shutterstock.com

Lizards are much different than snakes, and there are around 4,675 different types of species in the world. Lizards and snakes can be easily told apart, but with such a wide amount of lizards in the world some can look quite unique. Glass lizards are a species that looks more like a snake, but is classified as a lizard. They have no legs or appendages and look more similar to the average serpent. Legless lizards and other lizard species are able to blink and have eyelids. Lizards also have ear holes to hear, which is present in glass lizards

Here are common differences that lizards have when looking at their body appearance:

  • Most Lizards have four legs
  • Lizards have ear holes
  • Lizards have longer tails 
  • Some species of lizard can shed their tail 
  • Lizards can blink and have eyelids 

Traits of Lizards

There are a large variety of lizards in the world, and some species will have traits unique to them. Some examples are the frill of a frilled dragon and the wings of a Draco lizard. Snakes may have slight and amazing differences like patterns or scales, but they are nowhere near as diverse as the abundant species of lizards that can be found in the world. 

Snakes are more likely to be venomous, as there are only around 100 species of lizard that are capable of forming some type of venom. Some examples of venomous lizards are the Komodo dragon and the Gila monster. Venomous lizards are rare to come across. 

Lizards also have better vision than snakes, and some species have evolved to have great eyesight. Chameleons see in a range of 360 degrees and geckos have amazing night vision. The variety of lizard species have great senses suited for their lifestyle, and usually have better senses than a snake. 

How Lizards and Snakes Interact in the Wild 

baby-leopard-gecko-on-a-tree
Baby leopard geckos are only a few inches long and weigh less than 10 grams

iStock.com/agus fitriyanto

Lizards and snakes will often come across each other in the wild, as they are found in the same types of habitats. Snakes are dominant predators in areas they live and may feed on the native lizard species. Lizards usually feed on insects, but larger species are capable of eating snakes. When large enough a lizard will be a dominant predator in the area it lives. Lizards like monitor lizards are some of the most dangerous species and will feed on a variety of animals including snakes

While lizards and snakes may be different, both play an important role in keeping a balanced ecosystem. Smaller reptiles help control the population of species of insect, and mammals but are also a valuable food source for larger predators. When looking at lizards and snakes, there are many things that are alike, but also a plethora of differences to appreciate. 

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