Land Iguana, Galapagos Islands
Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands
Lizards are one of the most diverse and remarkable creatures on this planet; there are 6,000 species living on all the continents except Antarctica. Here are some of my favorites in this two-part series.
Although most lizards may seem vulnerable as fairly small, soft-sided creatures, they are hearty and flourishing survivors.
It is their antipredator adaptations that have rewarded lizards with success on the planet. Features such as camouflage, self-amputation, venom, and reflex bleeding aid these reptiles in numerous ways.
Camouflage. In the Hawaiian tropics, this gecko surprisingly blends into the lush tropical flowers and greenery. We were lucky to find this one on our rental car where it stood out.
Gold Dust Day Gecko, Hawaii
Here you see the Lobed Chameleon in Serengeti grass…barely noticeable in its camouflaged state. Imagine how many ferocious wild African species could eat this palm-sized chameleon…yet in Tanzania alone there are 100 species of chameleons.
Lobed Chameleon, Serengeti, Africa (in exact center of photo)
The chameleon, like many lizard species, changes color to hide from predators. They also have the ability to extend their long, sticky tongue to snap up insects without having to leave their hiding spot.
This frisky pair of spiny-tailed iguanas would have escaped our notice if they hadn’t been rustling in their chasing.
Spiny-tailed Iguana pair, Belize
We found a frill-necked lizard on every tree in this northern Australia eucalyptus forest. Invisible to us at first, the guide pointed them out.
Frill-necked Lizard, Atherton Tablelands, Australia
In addition to camouflaging, the frill-necked lizards have a unique scare tactic. Named for the ruff of skin around their neck, frill-necked lizards can expand their neck skin like the instant opening of an umbrella. They have bones in the frill that form rods extending their ruff, quickly transforming them to be bigger and more fierce.
This is a good BBC YouTube video of what the frill-necked lizard looks like when defending.
Self-amputation. Another example of anti-predator adaptation is autotomy or self-amputation. Skinks and small lizards are known for their ability to escape from a predator by this method.
If a predator grabs onto their tail, they sacrifice it by ejecting it, and escape, leaving the predator with only a still-squiggling tail. Miraculously, they grow the tail back. It has been found that lizard DNA is responsible for regeneration, involving 326 genes.
You can see this lizard with its battle scars: a segmented tail, indicative of regrowth.
Green Anole, Costa Rica; segmented tail indicating regeneration
Venom. While most lizards are not harmful, there are a few who produce venom, like the Gila monster, Komodo dragon, and some monitors. Lizard venom has led to ongoing scientific research for medicinal drugs to help with blood clotting, weight loss, and diabetes.
Reflex Bleeding. Horned lizards have an antipredator adaptation called reflex bleeding. At least eight species of this lizard can squirt and aim a stream of blood from the corner of their eyes, shooting it a distance of up to five feet (1.5 m). The blood confuses the predator, and is also foul-tasting to dogs and cats.
Another extraordinary lizard characteristic is thermoregulation. As cold-blooded animals, they rely on the sun for supplying energy to move and function. For this reason, lizards can often be seen basking in the sun.
Marine Iguana colony, Galapagos Islands
Basilisk Lizard, Belize, Central America
Lastly, lizards vary incredibly in size and shape. This land iguana is one of the largest lizards in the world, weighing up to 25 pounds (11 kg) and measuring 3-5 feet long (0.9-1.5 m).
Land Iguana, Galapagos Islands
In contrast, this full adult gecko, aptly named the dwarf gecko, is half as big as a paperclip.
Dwarf Gecko, Belize
And finally, as an aficionado of wild lizards, I ask that if you ever seek to purchase a lizard for a pet, please be responsible in purchasing only lizards that are bred in captivity and legally bought and sold. Help keep our wild lizards wild.
Solar-generated animals that can change colors, regrow their tail, magically blend into their surroundings, and shoot blood. How incredible is that?
Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos in the wild, by Athena Alexander.
See you next Friday for Part 2 of Lizard Land. Thanks for joining me!
Western Fence Lizard, California