When we hear the word lizard, most of us think of Pascal, Rapunzel’s tiny colour-shifting pet from Disney’s 2010 animated film, Tangled. Pascal was goofy but super cute. He had a surprisingly long tongue which he could stick out and an even longer tail that he could roll up.
In real life, lizards are just as majestic. They possess a super large set of incredible traits. But only a few of these traits are known, and many of them are even mistaken. For instance, many lizards are indeed small, but some species are as long as three metres. Most lizards have four legs, but a large proportion is limbless, looking like snakes.
So in today’s journey, we are exploring the world of lizards through 10 unusual but remarkably outstanding facts about them.
So let’s hop into it.
(1) There is a significant number of lizards
As you may remember from our previous articles on animals, all living things are classified using the taxonomy hierarchy. This classification consists of eight ranks. The broadest rank is the domain, which includes all extant and extinct organisms. On the flip side, the species is the narrowest rank, the most specific one. Every single organism is a distinguished species.
There are six other ranks between the domain and the species. They are kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, and genus from the broadest.
The class Reptilia includes all the reptiles that have existed on Earth. Reptiles are cold-blooded animals with four short limbs or no limbs at all. Like birds, they lay eggs. But unlike birds, their bodies are covered with thick scales. Turtles, crocodiles, snakes, alligators, dinosaurs, and lizards, are all reptiles.
Scientists could surely define over 7,000 species of lizards. Could you imagine that? That large number of lizards suggests a great deal of diversity. So to ease the process of studying them, scientists have further classified all of them into various suborders, families, subfamilies, and genera.
(2) Lizards are older than dinosaurs
According to the carbon testing of their fossils, lizards are estimated to have appeared on Earth around 260 million years ago. Given that dinosaurs, the world’s most giant reptiles, appeared 243 million years ago, lizards are technically older than them. In other words, both reptiles co-existed for over a hundred million years.
This period of Earth’s geological history is known as the Triassic period. It started 252 million years ago and ended 51 million years later. Dinosaurs went extinct, hypothetically, because of a giant asteroid impact that vanished most life forms on our dear planet. However, lizards survived and continued to exist.
Lizards are cold-blooded animals. Cold-blooded animals cannot control their internal body temperatures based on how different the temperature of the environment gets. Put simply, lizards’ bodies cannot produce heat. So to stay warm, they need to be in a warm environment or at least rely on warm surroundings.
That said, lizards can still adapt to any weather as long as it is not freezing cold. They love to live in the tropics. In addition, they can easily survive in the desert, where temperatures get super high. Therefore, they live everywhere on Earth except for the north and south poles.
(3) Lizards come in all sizes, shapes, and colours
The first thing that best represents the diversity of lizards is their size. Despite the common belief that all lizards are as small as Rapunzel’s Pascal, many lizards are way smaller than that, and others are much, much bigger.
For instance, the world’s smallest lizard is the Jaragua lizard, native to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea. It is so tiny that it can fit on top of your index finger. This dwarf reptile measures only 16 mm, on average, from nose to tail and weighs only 0.13 g— it is hard to imagine this lizard has any bones at all.
On the other hand, the Komodo dragon is the largest lizard currently living on Earth, more specifically on a few Indonesian islands. It is as long as 3 metres (at the maximum) and can weigh up to 70 kg.
Like all reptiles, lizards’ bodies are covered with tough, thick skin known as scales. All of them have their scales overlapping in unique patterns. Sometimes, those patterns display different hues of the same colour, most commonly green and brown. Other times, patterns dazzle in different but incredibly matching colours, such as blue, orange, grey, or black.
(4) Lizards are predators, and many of them are prey as well
Animals are either predators, prey, or both. Apex predators are those that feed on other animals, but no other animal feeds on them. Some animals are just prey. They are as peaceful as not to attack others. Still, they are some other predators’ favourite food. Other animals are both predators and prey.
The Komodo dragon is an apex predator, like lions, wolves, and polar bears, thanks to its relatively large size. On the other hand, most other lizards are both predators and prey. They eat insects and rodents. But they are also food for some birds, and sometimes even snakes, their cousins.
That said, lizards catch prey in a very distinct way, known as the sit-and-wait way. Like spiders, once lizards spot prey, they just sit there in death-like silence and wait until it gets so close. Then all of a sudden, they make their inescapable attack.
(5) Lizards eat all kinds of food
It is mainly known that lizards eat insects. Well, that is true for just a certain percentage of them, most of which are of small sizes. Species like the leopard gecko, the bearded dragon, the garden skink, and the anole feed on spiders, bugs, and caterpillars. Insect-eating lizards are known as insectivores.
On the other hand, some other species of lizards are carnivores or meat-eaters. Their prey changes, however, based on the lizard’s size. But they generally feed on rodents, frogs, fish, and birds too.
The Komodo dragon, the biggest extant lizard we mentioned earlier, prefers larger prey and typically hunts mammals, such as goats and pigs. Yet, its most favourite prey happens to be the water buffalo.
Other lizards eat plants only, so they are known as herbivores. They eat vegetables such as peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, beans, and peas. In addition, they feed on greens, including collard greens, lettuce, kale, escarole, and mustard greens. Some lizards eat meat and plants, and others, like bees and birds, suck the nectar out of flowers.
(6) Many lizards are limbless
Another uncommon fact about lizards is that not all of them have legs. In fact, around 2000 lizard species are limbless. At some point during their evolution, their legs shrank and almost disappeared while their bodies prolonged. This made them look so much like snakes while they are not.
Many things can help tell limbless lizards from snakes. For instance, limbless lizards have eyelids and external ear openings, while snakes do not. In addition, they have long tails, and their tongues are not forked like those of snakes. Lastly, the scales of limbless lizards are utterly different from any snake’s scales.
Native to Southern Europe and Central Asia, the largest legless lizard is the Pallas’s glass lizard—what a cool name. It can reach a length of 135 cm long, but it weighs as low as 200 grams on average and 400 grams at the maximum. Besides, this Pallas’s glass lizard does possess teen-tiny back legs that are only 2 mm long, too short to be called legs anyways.
On the other hand, the Collared delma is the world’s smallest legless lizard which lives in Australia. Interestingly, this lizard has a tail that is longer than its entire body. While it measures 60 mm, on average, from nose to tail bone, the tail itself ranges between 103 to 126 mm. Speaking of weight, this lizard is as heavy as 1.36 kg on average.
Put differently, the smallest limbless lizard is shorter but way heavier than the largest limbless one.
(7) Legged lizards move distinctly
Four-legged lizards walk in a funny diagonal but undoubtedly distinct way. They lift an opposite arm and leg, bending from side to side. Chameleons, those small colour-shifting lizards, can move back and forth boringly and slowly, like in slow motion.
Some lizards can also run. The Komodo dragon, for instance, can run at 20 km/h. At the same time, the sidewinder, which is a limbless lizard, has a maximum running (or, should we say, crawling?) of 29 km/hr.
Besides, the gecko, anole, and chameleon lizards have adhesive pads under their feet. So they can climb walls and stick upside-down to ceilings without falling. Other lizards have strong claws, which make them perfect tree climbers.
(8) Many lizards have magical abilities
Every animal has a set of behaviours which they use to adapt to the environment, thrive, interact with their peers, and protect themselves from danger. When it comes to lizards, the list of abilities is longer than Rapunzel’s hair but definitely just as magical.
For instance, some lizard species, like the mourning gecko, can regrow their tails if they lose them in some tragic accident or fight. Other gecko lizards use their long tongues to lick their eyeballs to clean them and keep them moisturised.
The bright green Chameleon lizard can move each eye in any direction, completely independent from the other. In addition, it can change its colours to camouflage with the environment. It does this either to protect itself from predators or to hunt prey.
Interestingly, the scales covering Chameleon’s body take different colours. For instance, the stripes can be orange with blue dots, while the rest of the body can change to a mixture of blue, purple, pink and orange colours.
The Draco lizard can fly. Yes, you read it correctly. It has skin between its ribs which, when extended, enable it to fly or glide. That is why the Draco lizard is oftentimes called the flying dragon. On the other hand, the horned lizard can shoot acidic blood from its eyes to defend itself when threatened. There are also horns on its head and sides to stop other predators, primarily snakes, from swallowing it.
Many lizards can swim and dive too. They use their long tails to move in the water. When swimming, they keep their noses out in the air to breathe. But when they dive, they take a deep breath to stay underwater for up to a few minutes.
That said, some lizard species, like the anole lizard, can breathe underwater. By filling its snout with air, it can breathe normally while diving. Some diving lizards can stay underwater for up to 17 minutes!
Some lizard species, estimated to be 10, were also found to produce venom. They shoot it or bite to inject it. However, their venoms are different from those produced by snakes. This is another defence mechanism venomous lizards use during times of danger or when hunting.
An animal (or human) shot by a lizard’s venom will experience bleeding, low blood pressure, and other symptoms that get them weary enough for the lizard to escape. Sometimes, lizards’ venoms may cause victims to pass out.
Aside from everything we mentioned so far, which is still so cool, no feature is more mind-blowing than self-cloning. The whiptail lizards, native to New Mexico and Arizona, USA, are an all-female species. There are no male individuals whatsoever. So these female lizards developed the ability to reproduce by themselves without the need for a male, just like cloning.
As a result, the newborn whiptail lizards are all females too.
The female Komodo dragon lizard, the most giant living lizard we mentioned a lot earlier, also possesses this self-cloning ability. It can even activate or deactivate it based on the circumstances.
For instance, when male Komodo dragons are around, females mate with them and breed. But when males are scarce or completely absent, females turn on their self-cloning and have baby Komodo dragons, females, of course, all by themselves.
(9) Many lizards make great pets
Keeping pets has been a human practice for most of their lives on Earth. The joy interacting with other creatures brings about is so unique. It was found to reduce stress, elevate mood, and increase happiness. That is why keeping pets is especially great for lonely people.
Throughout history, humans have kept pets that they could tame or domesticate. Dogs, cats, birds, turtles, and hamsters are the most popular pets. That said, lizards make great pets too.
Well, not all lizards can be pets, for sure, but a few species. Some lizard species that one can keep as pets include the bearded dragon (yes, it has a beard), the blue-tongue skink (not skunk, and, yes, it does have a blue tongue), the chameleon, and the crested gecko.
Those lizards are too small to take up any space at all. They are clean, quiet, and super peaceful. They also do not fear humans and can easily interact with them. Another point that makes them great pets is that they do not require much care. They do not necessarily need to be taken out like dogs, nor do they pointlessly meow all night like cats. Besides, they are daylight creatures, just like most humans. They stay active during the day and rest at night.
(10) Lizards can live up to 50 years
Like everything we mentioned so far about lizards, their lifespans are also diverse, ranging from a few months to 50 years. But the lifespan of every species also differs in the wild, where they are more prone to predation than when kept captive, where they receive care and protection.
The Labord’s chameleon lizard has the shortest lifespan. In the wild, it lives for around 4-5 months only. But in captivity, it can survive for up to 3 years. On the other hand, the Komodo dragon lizard has the longest lifespan, reaching 50 years.
Here we get to the end of today’s adventure in the diverse world of lizards, a world most of us were unfortunately unaware of, but, hopefully, not anymore.
In this article, we discussed 10 different uncommon but still unbelievable facts about lizards. We looked a little into their history on Earth in terms of when they appeared, where they live, and how many species of them there are. We also learned about their sizes, colours, and predatory nature.
Then, we explored the limbless lizards and learned how to differentiate them from snakes. Finally, we discussed the lizards’ magical abilities, how they move around, and what makes excellent pets.
We hope you found this article useful as much as we loved writing it for you. You can still learn more about our beautiful nature by visiting our website’s World Around Us page.