Lizard Land — Part 2 of 2

Green Iguana, Belize, native

 

Last week in Part 1 of this series we looked at lizards’ antipredator adaptations, camouflage, and size. Today we look at their skin, and various ways they move, sense, and communicate.

 

For starters, they are gloriously prehistoric. When you watch a lizard, especially the way it moves, it’s almost as if you are watching a dinosaur. The evolution of reptiles dates back 310-320 million years; more info here. 

 

Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands

 

Blue-tongued Lizard pair, entwined, Sydney, Australia

 

Spiny-tailed Lizard, Ambergris Caye, Belize

 

Skin. Lizard skin is covered with overlapping scales made of keratin, providing protection from the environment. Scales also help prevent water loss, especially important in hot, dry deserts.

 

This photo shows the textured scales.

Western Fence Lizard, California

 

Tough and leathery, lizard skin is shed as the animal grows; they usually eat it for the minerals.

 

Locomotion.  Lizards live on the ground, in trees, rocks, underground, and even water. Therefore, they move in many different ways.

 

Although there are some legless lizards, most lizards are quadrupedal. Their gait has alternating movement of the right and left limbs, requiring the body to bend–shown in this photo of the Nile monitor.

 

Nile Monitor, Botswana, Africa

 

One of my favorite lizards for their movement is the common basilisk. When alarmed, basilisks rear up on their two hind legs and skitter across the water, earning them the name Jesus Christ Lizard. I’ve seen them run bipedally on the ground as well.

 

This photo demonstrates the basilisk’s muscular hind legs, necessary for bipedal locomotion.

 

Basilisk Lizard, Belize

 

Many species of lizards can effortlessly leap two and three times their body length. Lizards with short legs, like the skink, undulate like a snake.

 

Skink, California

 

Some lizards are extremely fast, while others, especially larger ones, are more languid. In addition, how much sun they have stored in their body is directly relational to speed.

 

The black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaurus similis) is known as the fastest lizard, clocked at 21 mph (34 kph).

 

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana, Ambergris Caye, Belize

 

Geckos get the prize for hanging upside down. Their adhesive toe pads allow them to adhere to most surfaces.

 

The Asian House Gecko has the broadest distribution of any lizard in the world.

 

Asian House Gecko on the ceiling, Kakadu NP, Australia

 

Senses. With over 6,000 species of lizards, there are many variations of how lizards sense their environment–here are a few notable ways.

 

Eyes. Many lizard species, especially iguanas, have a parietal eye, a third eye, on the back of their head. It is photoreceptive and regulates circadian rhythm and hormone production for thermoregulation. Although it does not form images, it is sensitive to light and movement, helpful for detecting predators. The eye is difficult for us to see.

 

A chameleon can steer each eye in opposite directions. Geckos do not have eyelids, so they lick their eyes to keep them clean and moist. Geckos, like monitors, have acute vision.

 

Ears. Instead of external ears, lizards have ear holes or openings. The eardrums, or tympanic membranes, are just below the surface of the skin. These two close-ups clearly show the “ears.”

 

Dragon Lizard, Australia. Ear hole is reddish-brown circle below and left of eye.

 

 

This frill-necked lizard’s ear opening is just right of center photo, in an almost straight line below the eye. Australia.

 

Nose. All lizards, like snakes, have a specialized olfactory system for detecting pheromones or chemical signals. They have a vomeronasal organ (VNO), located in the soft tissue of the nasal septum. When you see a lizard sticking out its forked tongue, as in the photo below, what you are witnessing is the transferring of scent information from the tip of its forked tongue to the VNO.

 

Golden Tegu Lizard with forked tongue out, Trinidad

 

Mouth. Most lizards are predatory and hunt small invertebrates and/or insects. We have lizards to thank for keeping the insect population in check.

 

This western fence lizard had a fruitful day in my backyard. As winged nuptial ants were streaming from a rock fissure, he gorged for at least an hour.

 

Western Fence Lizard, California, eating nuptial ants. Notice all the dead winged ants he hasn’t yet had the chance to consume.

 

Here in California we are lucky to have the western fence lizard, because ticks that feed on this lizard do not spread Lyme disease. This lizard’s blood kills off the Lyme bacteria.

 

The marine iguana, found only in the Galapagos Islands, forages on algae, kelp and other marine plants. They will dive up to 98 feet (30 m), and can stay submerged for an hour.

 

While underwater, marine iguanas ingest salt. The salt is filtered from the blood and then nasally excreted. We saw many of them squirt salt out their nostrils.

 

This photo shows the marine iguana’s lovable face encrusted with algae (green) and dried salt (white) on it.

 

Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands

 

As squamates, lizards have movable upper jaws, and some lizards, like the green iguana, have very sharp teeth capable of shredding leaves and even human skin. All lizards have teeth, dentition varies.

 

Communication. Lizards make sounds for courtship, territorial defense, and distress signals. Geckos are the most loquacious lizards, with chirps and squeaks that can be surprisingly loud. Sometimes you’ll hear a lizard hiss, a warning.

 

Other forms of communication include:  various body postures like push-ups and head-bobs, as well as the expansion of the dewlap. Tail-flicking is common in territorial disputes.

 

We found this dapper anole with a bright orange dewlap in a Texas swamp.

 

Green anole, Texas

 

This green iguana below, near a river in Costa Rica where it is native, was nearly five feet long (1.5 m) including the tail. An arboreal lizard, they hunt and bask in the trees and can easily break a fall with their hind legs.

 

This photo shows his crescent-shaped, uninflated dewlap under the neck. Dewlaps are muscle-controlled, and help regulate body temperature; also used in courtship and territorial displays.

 

Green Iguana, Costa Rica

 

Leaping Lizards Batman! They are the coolest animal on this planet!

Thanks for joining me in Lizard Land.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild, by Athena Alexander.

 

Great Basin Fence Lizard, Great Basin NP, Nevada

 

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87 thoughts on “Lizard Land — Part 2 of 2

  1. Fascinating post, Jet! I learned a lot. I didn’t know there were so many species of lizards in the world. They tend to take back seat to flashier animals, most humans seem to gravitate to mammals, I guess.
    I’m wondering if scientists are studying Fence Lizards to discover what in their blood kills Lyme. A shot of that would help countless humans suffering from Lyme.

  2. Cool photos and lots of amazing bits of information. Thanks, Jet and Athena. About the only lizards I see where I live in Northern Virginia are several varieties of skinks. I had no idea that a basilisk was a real creature–thanks to Harry Potter, I figured that it would be a kind of snake. 🙂

    • It’s a pure joy to share the magic of lizards with you, Mike. And a delight to introduce you to the basilisk, one of my very favorite lizards. Warm thanks.

  3. thank you for another fascinating post, Jet. you have the most interesting facts and fabulous photos about lizards! the skink really looks like a snake; it has gorgeous blue tail! i get a kick out of the geckos’ hanging upside down with their adhesive toe pads. i’ve seen a lot of the asian house geckos in the philippines, we call them house lizards. lizards are beautiful creatures. the green anole with a bright orange dewlap is simply photogenic and my favorite is the blue-tongued pair lovingly entwined! thanks again, Jet! this is awesome!

    • Dear Wilma, it is a delight to hear what some of your favorite lizards were here. That blue-tongued pair were creating a bit of a ruckus in the leaf litter of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, which is how we found them. He was chasing her around and biting her. Also liked hearing about the house lizards in the Philippines. Thanks so much for sharing and visiting, I always enjoy your visits.

  4. The variations are fascinating! I really like the geckos, maybe because they’re small and seem to be part of tropical living (right in the rooms). But the others are each beautiful in their own lizardy way. This post is almost like a fashion show of lizards, each with their unique design but all by one designer. This line is probably created by Liz Gecko, cousin of Gucci. 😉

    • Wonderful to hear your writer’s imagination at work, Anneli. It was great fun for me to go through our travel photos and find all the lizards. I didn’t realize how many different species we had seen until I composed this post. I liked these words of yours: “…each beautiful in their own lizardy way.” Many thanks for your spirited comment.

  5. Love it! You have captured a lot of lizards here, Jet. They are a fascinating family of creatures. The Marine iguana is definitely in my bucket-list.

    • I was happy to have the experience of so many lizards. I do so love the marine iguana, David, you will too. I have spent hours watching them on land, and also had the fun moment of coming across one underwater while snorkeling. He was just bobbing along under the water, eating the algae on the rocks. Thanks for your visits, much appreciated.

    • I’m smiling, Belinda. Thanks for your warm note, and how wonderful that you enjoyed the Lizard Land series. I had lots of fun putting it together, and of course Athena enjoyed photographing these delightful lizards.

    • Hi Janet, I always like hearing about the favorite photos. I was so excited that I found the mating blue-tongued lizard photo, had kind of forgotten about it. We were in the middle of Sydney, a sprawling metropolis, when we found that pair in the Royal Botanic Garden leaf litter. And that encrusted face is pretty fun, isn’t it. Very wonderful to have your visit and input, Janet, thank you.

  6. Fascinating! We have a little fellow who perches on the dining room door and inflates his dewlap in order to intimidate (or court?) his own reflection in the glass! I fondly remember watching the release of the nuptial ants from your kitchen window last year (?)!

    • Funny and endearing anecdote about your lizard and his reflection, Nan. I remember that nuptial ant release we watched together, and I remember you were glad we were inside for that event. I have unwittingly captured many flying ants in my hair plenty of times, I knew that wasn’t good etiquette to show a guest. lol. So many happy memories, dear Nan. Thank you.

  7. Leaping lizards indeed Jet! Wowza jam pa led guide with which lizard can outdo the other in unusual abilities. I said to Dave we need that extra eye in the back of our head for taking care of our granddaughter on the playground. She runs as fast as the Basalisk lizard on water. I recall that post of yours and found it so intriguing. Just the other day we were at the zoo and the Komodo dragon was flicking his tongue and we were teaching fast moving granddaughter that he was smelling things. She looked at us as if we had lost our marbles. Love the unique abilities and adaptations you have explained Jet. So many wonderful photos from Athena too. Wishing you both an excellent weekend.

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing of your adventures with your granddaughter, Sue, teaching her about the outdoors, a very important task to share with the new generation, for it’s up to them to keep this planet perpetuating the wildlife. Although I doubt you will be able to grow a third eye for keeping an eye on her, she sure is lucky to have so much attention from her two loving grandparents. So very glad you enjoyed the Lizard Land series, Sue, my warmest thanks for your visit.

      • Always a pleasure Jet. I’ll be sure to show her the photos next time we see her. She definitely is growing more interested in learning about animals and behaviours. We were at a fish hatchery and education centre last week and one of the staff was teaching her about a spider that could be on the top of water. She has been busy telling anyone who will listen about the swimming spider. 🙂

    • The third eye is so interesting. I have always found it difficult to sneak up on the big iguanas, and now I know why, that third eye. Yes, I agree, it would be nice to have a third eye. Warm thanks.

  8. Very interesting as it was the part1. Did you read on the News that Florida is allowing and encouraging people to kill as many iguanas as possible! Florida has an overpopulation of iguanas. I believe that they are connected to certain bacterial infections.
    I’m glad to know that you were not affected by the recent​ earthquake in CA. Thanks for the post, my dear friend. 🙂

    • In Florida the green iguana is not native. And there’s always mayhem when a non-native species takes over, whether its plants or animals. There are many environmental problems in Fla., as I’m sure you’re aware, HJ. Glad you enjoyed the Lizard Land posts, HJ — always a pleasure to “see” you, thank you.

  9. I really, really enjoyed Part 2 of Lizard Land! The information and the photographs are remarkable – and I think the Marine Iguana might just be my all time favourite. The two photographs included are wonderful, what an engaging character!
    Thanks for this one, Jet, and given the vastness of the subject matter, I hope there’s another trip to Lizard Land sometime in the future…

    • I so appreciate your reading and commenting on Lizard Land, pc, especially since I think you’re traveling to the UK this weekend. I had so much fun learning and sharing the marvels of the lizards, and I love that you’re asking about a future trip to Lizard Land. I have lots more photos of the Marine Iguana, also one of my favorites, too, pc. Squirting salt out their nostrils, laying across the rocks, in and out of the water, draped over each other. On the different Galapagos Islands they were different colors, also fascinating. Cheerio my friend, hope all goes well on your family visit.

  10. That’s quite the collection of different kinds of lizards! I knew they were cold-blooded and need the warmth from the sun/air to survive but I had never really connected the dots to “how much sun they have stored in their body is directly relational to speed”. Interestingly, heat has the opposite effect on me 😉

    Skinks on the other hand I just don’t get. To my eye, they are simply a snake by another name.

    • Oh I can imagine what kinds of stories you would concoct if you were to hang out in Lizard Land for a few weeks, Craig. lol. Enjoyed learning about your collared lizards being bipedals, too. Yes, a total shock to see them skittering on two legs, especially, like you say, that first time.

  11. Even after your first post, I was surprised by the variety you’ve shown here. I’m quite fond of our anoles, and we had those house lizards in Liberia, but it would be such fun to have some of the more exotic species around. On the other hand, as you’ve properly noted, introducing exotic species just for the fun of it can lead to real trouble. There’s a certain amusement in the stories of iguanas falling on people, cars, and such during Florida freezes, but it would be better all around if they’d not been introduced.

    Still, thanks to you and Athena for introducing us to such wonderful creatures!

    • Really enjoyed your comment, as always, Linda, thank you. Yes, it’s unfortunate that the pet trade and consumers have brought the green iguana, in places like Fla., to this place of unnatural chaos. People buy them for pets and then they cannot keep up with the effort, and they let them loose in the wild, and the iguanas become an invasive species. Fla. has let it get out of hand. In Hawaii ownership is prohibited and violators are severely fined and can spend three years in jail. I liked hearing about your experiences with house lizards in Liberia; and am glad you enjoyed Lizard Land. Thank you Linda.

  12. What an amazing creatures, eating their own skin for minerals, walking on water, the marine iguana able to stay under water for an hour, to name a few things. Thanks for highlighting them for us Jet!

    • I enjoyed your summary of some of the remarkable aspects of lizards that you gleaned from the Lizard Land series, Bertie. I’m delighted you liked the series, thank you so much.

    • Glad you liked the lizard post, Frank. It was great fun seeing all these incredible lizards, and I am very lucky to have the skills of Athena to photographically record them. Funny tidbit about them eating their shed skin, yes? Thanks so very much, Frank.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed both parts of Lizard Land, Sharon. There are so many interesting facts and gorgeous lizards to share, it’s a wealth of beauty, we are so lucky to share this planet with them. I, too, am a big fan of the marine iguana…a fascinating creature. As always, my warmest thanks for your visits and comments.

  13. Oh heavens! I learn so much from your posts. I’m not sure what the lizards are around here, but we have lots of them. We also see the occasional skink. It would be nice if we had the Western Fence to neutralize the ticks, but the skins and general appearance are close, but not quite… So it’s a mystery. I’m actually getting like the little things. Who would have thought?

    (Wondering why we haven’t somehow made an antidote to the ticks from the Fence Lizards.)

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the lizards in Lizard Land, Gunta. I’m very glad to know you have lots of lizards. Here’s a great field guide you will find helpful: Western Reptiles and Amphibians by Robert C. Stebbins. It will solve all your mysteries, my friend. 🙂

  14. Nice to see lizards with which I’m not familiar. I really enjoy them. Several years ago I cared for a green iguana owned by a friend who was remodeling her house. I cared for it about six months and really had the opportunity to get to know it. Wonderful creature!

    • How fun that must’ve been for you, montucky, to spend six intimate months with your friend’s green iguana — very nice for the iguana, too, to not have to be disrupted by the remodeling. Warm thanks for your visit and story today, my friend.

  15. French has made a verb, lézarder, which means ‘to crack, split, peel,’ based on the skins of these reptiles. Later French added the sense ‘to bask, to laze,’ based on many a lizard’s behavior in the sun.

  16. Wow! Thank you for sharing so much information!! I learned so many things that I didn’t know about lizards, like there ears. I love the textures in their skin and would like to study it more. I have seen the blue-tailed skinks where I live – my cat likes to eat them! 😳
    I’m curious what started your interest in lizards? They really are amazing creatures! 🦎

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the lizard posts, Jill. I became most interested when I moved to a property, and then also travelled, where there were lizards around. I’m glad you have the skinks, and I hope you put a bell on your cat, or some other form of safety to protect the skinks, rather than have them be eaten. Domestic cats are not really part of the natural rhythm of nature, and we need to protect our lizards, because as you say, they are amazing creatures. Many thanks for your visit.

  17. They are the coolest animals. I adore them all. They are very cute and huggable… except I wouldn’t bother one. Great post. Thank you Jet & Athena!

  18. Latecomer to this, Jet. As dozens of people have already said, wonderful post and photos – esp liked the Galapagos Iguana close-up… On Abaco there are 3 green iguanas, considered invasive and damaging there. All miles apart, though. One escaped from a compound on a cay and swam across the strait to the mainland – though to look at, they don’t seem at all seaworthy… RH

    • I liked hearing about the iguanas on Abaco, RH, and loved that you know the escape route one took. I’m glad you enjoyed Lizard Land, and as always, very much appreciated your visit.

  19. I thought I missed part II so I just had to read this post, Jet. Wow on the pictures! Stunning captures, each and every single one of them! I had no idea there are so many types of lizards. Oh my goodness! The hours you both must have spent not only on capturing these lizards but identifying them boggles my mind. Exceptional post with so much detail and information to absorb. I really do understand the time that it takes to put something like this together. I applaud the two of you! I SO enjoyed this post!! Thank you!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

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