There are more than 5600 species of lizards found on Earth. Each of them has unique characteristics with regards to their food, habitat and self-defense. Lizards have become popular pets in the western world, with species like geckos, green iguanas and anoles being the famous ones. It is very important to research well and learn about the species before you decide to keep it as a pet.
CLASSIFICATION OF DIFFERENT TYPE OF LIZARDS
Lizards are one of biggest, most diverse and widespread group of reptiles found on Earth. They are found on all continents, except Antarctica. Their color, size and diet varies according to different geographical terrains. Lizards have been in existence before the Jurassic era (208-144 million years ago), a little after the Carboniferous period. They have been evolving ever since, adapting to their environment and habitat.
The Early Signs of Lizard
The earliest known fossil remains of a lizard is of an iguana species in India, the fossil is estimated to be around 220 million years old.
In order to understand and learn about different species and families of lizards, it is important to know the classification. The sub-order is further divided into families. Each of these families contains different types of lizards of various genus, and these genus contain different species of lizards.
Types of Lizards
Interesting Fact: Males, in some species of Agamids, develop dramatically colorful markings on the body during breeding season. This color change plays a part in communication and reproductive behavior.
Description: Agamids, commonly known as dragons or dragon lizards, are one of the most widely spread lizards in the world. They can be found in many sizes, (5 in. to 1 ft in length) and wide variety of colors.
Geographical range: Africa, Asia, Australia, Southern Europe.
Habitat: Warm environment.
Diet: Insects, grass, berries, seeds and eggs of smaller lizards.
No. of Species: 300+
Most popular species: Rainbow agama and Frill-necked lizard.
American legless Lizards
Interesting Fact: Because of their appearance, legless lizards are often mistaken to be snakes. If observed closely they have eyelids which distinguishes them from snakes (which don’t have eyelids).
Description: The family Anniellidae contains only two species in a single genus Anniella. These lizards are small, slender with no legs, have a shovel-shaped snout, smooth shiny scales, and a blunt tail.
Geographical range: North America (mainly California).
Habitat: Moist soil. Sand dunes along the coast.
Diet: Larval insects, beetles, termites, and spiders.
No. of Species: 2
Most popular species: California legless lizard and Black legless lizard
Interesting Fact: Some species of anoles are very territorial. Some have even been witnessed showing aggressive behavior to their reflections in mirrors. Anoles are also used as native pest control, as they eat spiders, cockroaches and other bugs.
Description: Anoles are small lizards commonly found near houses and parks in South-Eastern parts of US, Cuba and Jamaica. Most species in the family sport green color, however few of them are brown. Anoles changes its color based on its mood and surroundings.
Geographical range: North America.
Diet: Grubs, crickets, cockroaches, spiders, and moths.
No. of Species: 400
Most popular species: Green anoles and Carolina anoles.
Interesting Fact: Many people confuse blind lizards to worms. The slender and small body of blind lizards, and the fact that they live underground most of the time, contributes to this confusion.
Description: Blind lizards have no external ears, the eyes are greatly reduced, and covered by a scale. Females are entirely limbless, the males retain small, flap-like hind limbs (used for mating).
Geographical range: Mexico, SE Asia, Indonesia, the Philippine Islands and Western New Guinea.
Habitat: Burrowing in the soil or under rocks of dense forest.
Diet: Small insects.
No. of Species: 22
Most popular species: Alfred’s Bli
Interesting Fact: The basilisk lizard, also known as Jesus Christ lizard, has large hind feet with flaps of skin between each toe, this allows them to run fast on the surface of water.
Description: These lizards get their name from their typical, head crests in the shape of a casque. This is present only in males. It is mainly used in defensive display. Their laterally compressed body is perfect for climbing, and their tails help maintain balance.
Geographical range: From Mexico to Central America and Ecuador.
Diet: Insects, flowers and small vertebrates (snakes, birds, eggs and fish).
No. of Species: 9
Most popular species: Common basilisk and Brown basilisk.
Interesting Fact: Chameleons are uniquely adapted for climbing and visual hunting. They have the most distinctive eyes of any reptile, they can focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. The spiral tail helps in balancing and grasping branches.
Description: Chameleons are one of the most recognized lizard species in the world. They are known for the ability to change their body color to blend in with the environment. The slow movements and the accurate aim of the long tongue makes them successful hunters.
Geographical range: Africa, Madagascar, Spain, Portugal, South Asia. (have also been introduced to Hawaii, California, and Florida).
Habitat: Warm habitat (varies from rainforests to deserts).
Diet: Insects (larger species of chameleons might eat smaller lizards and young birds)
No. of Species: 160
Most popular species: West Usambara two-horned chameleon.
Common Collared Lizard
Interesting Fact: Collared lizards get their name due to the distinctive black band on their neck and shoulder, which looks like a collar. It is the state reptile of the state of Oklahoma in the United States.
Description: The species in this family are fast-moving lizards, with long limbs and tails. Some of the species are well-known for sprinting fast on their hind legs, looking like small dinosaurs. They are mostly found in deserts.
Geographical range: Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.
Habitat: Arid and semiarid plains.
Diet: Insects, small mammals and other lizards.
No. of Species: 12 species
Most popular species: Common collared lizard and Eastern collared lizard.
Earless Monitor Lizards
Interesting Fact: Despite the name, this rare lizard is capable of hearing, although it lacks visible signs of ears.
Description: Not a lot is known about this species of lizard, as it is very rare. Around 20 cm in length, the lizard is semi-aquatic and has reduced ears and limbs. Their body has rough brown scales.
Geographical range: Northern Borneo.
Habitat: Burrowing and nocturnal.
No. of Species: 1
Earless, Spiny, Side-Blotched and Horned Lizards
Interesting Fact: When threatened, the desert horned lizard squirts blood from its eye, as far as 5 feet.
Description: The family is diverse and has around 136 species. Most lizards in this family have adapted to desert and rocky conditions. Most species have spikes on the body for defense against predators. These lizards use camouflage and ambush style of hunting.
Geographical range: Panama to South Canada.
Habitat: Hot, sandy deserts (rocky deserts in some cases)
Diet: Ants, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, worms, flies, and some plant material.
No. of Species: 136 species
Most popular species: Desert horned lizard and Texas horned lizard.
Interesting Fact: The most well-known species of gecko is the leopard gecko, it is commonly kept as a pet. Leopard geckos always appear to be smiling, this is not because they are always happy, but because the way their head and mouth is shaped.
Description: Geckos are small, colorful lizards that are experts in climbing all surfaces. They are distinguished with their unique chirping sounds which they use to communicate. They cannot blink, they have a transparent membrane instead of eyelids. They use their long tongue to clean their eyes and keep it dust-free.
Geographical range: Across the globe.
Habitat: Warm climates.
Diet: Insects and other invertebrates.
No. of Species: 1,500
Most popular species: Gold dust day gecko and Leopard gecko.
Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards
Interesting Fact: Gila monsters don’t need to eat very often, they can store fat in their large tails. They are able to go months and even a year between meals.
Description: The family consists of venomous lizards, however the venom is only used in defense and not for subduing prey. The two species in this family are large, stocky and slow-moving. Both species are dark in color, with yellowish or pinkish markings .
Geographical range: Southwestern United States, Mexico and Guatemala.
Habitat: Scrublands and deserts.
Diet: Rodents, small mammals, eggs of birds and reptiles.
No. of Species: 2
Most popular species: Gila monster and beaded lizard.
Interesting Fact: These lizards don’t have limbs and look a lot like snakes. The only things that identifies these reptiles as lizards is the shape of their head and the fact that they have movable eyelids and external ear openings.
Description: Anguidae family mostly have no limbs, they are slow-moving and can be easily caught. They shed their tails to distract predators. Some species have the ability to climb trees.
Geographical range: India, China, Indonesian islands, North Africa, South-Eastern United States.
Habitat: Wide range of habitat (desert, plains forest etc).
Diet: Slugs, hairless caterpillars, earthworms, young rodents, and small reptiles.
No. of Species: 94
Most popular species: Eastern glass lizard, Slow-worms.
Iguanas and Spinytail Iguanas
Interesting Fact: Average lifespan of an iguana in the wild is 20 years, however it is much shorter in captivity, since many owners do not have the appropriate knowledge to take care of iguanas.
Description: Green iguanas are one of the most popular reptile pets in the United States and are also among the largest lizards in the Americas, averaging around 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and weighing about 11 pounds (5 kilograms).
Geographical range: Northern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands and Southern Brazil.
Habitat: Arboreal and marine.
Diet: Leaves, flowers, fruit, growing shoots, and sea weed.
No. of Species: Disputed (39 recognized).
Most popular species: Green iguana.
Interesting Fact: The Chinese crocodile lizard gets its name because of the rows of enlarged, bony scales down its back and a muscular tail (like that of a crocodile).
Description: These lizards have rounded, bumpy scales and live in a semi-aquatic habitat. They are excellent swimmers and usually hunt small fish and water insects. Many species are rare in the wild and are listed as vulnerable according to IUCN.
Geographical range: Central America and China.
Habitat: Semi-aquatic and semi-arid scrub environment.
Diet: Fish, tadpoles, snails, insects.
No. of Species: 7
Most popular species: Chinese crocodile lizard.
Interesting Fact: The lack of limbs compensates for the amazing hearing sense that these lizards have. They can hear tones higher than any other reptile and they also have the ability to vocalize, emitting high-pitched squeak.
Description: Pygopods possess vestigial hind limbs in the form of small, flattened, flaps. These flaps are used for defensive behavior and aids locomotion through vegetation. Most species are burrowing animals.
Geographical range: Australia and New Guinea.
Habitat: Burrows/dense spinifex.
Diet: Insects, smaller lizards.
No. of Species: 35
Most popular species: Common scaly-foot.
Interesting Fact: Madagascan iguanas have many features that are similar to normal Iguanas. Studies show that DNA of the two families split some millions years back, making them two different species.
Description: Opluridae has 7 species under 2 genera. These lizards are found abundantly in Madagascar, the most famous species being collared iguana.
Geographical range: Madagascar.
Habitat: Trees, rocks, sand dunes.
Diet: Insects, flowers (occasionally) .
No. of Species: 7
Most popular species: Collared iguana.
Interesting Fact: Komodo dragons are the biggest and heaviest lizards on Earth. The largest Komodo dragon ever found was 10.3 feet (3.1 meters) long and weighed 366 pounds (166 kilograms)!
Description: This family has the largest living lizards. Monitor lizards have a diverse geographical range and are found in almost all terrains. Varanidae are large, with long necks, powerful tail and claws they use to tear flesh and dig burrows.
Geographical range: Africa, South and South-East Asia, Indo-Australian islands and Australia
Habitat: Deserts, tropical rain forests, coastal areas, mountains.
No. of Species: 67
Most popular species: Komodo dragon and Monitor lizards.
Neotropical Ground Lizards
Interesting Fact: When fighting for a mate, these lizards stand high on all fours, usually sideways to their opponent to maximize their apparent size and bob up and down.
Description: Most lizards in this species are ground-dwelling. The color, patterns and even the size of these lizards vary according to their environment.
Geographical range: South America and the West Indies.
Habitat: ground-dwelling (yards and gardens).
No. of Species: 119
Most popular species: Lava lizards.
Interesting Fact: Night lizards give birth to 1-3 young ones at a time. The young lizards live with their mother, father and siblings for one year. However, these young lizards, roughly the size of a toothpick, are not dependent on the parents.
Description: Xantusiidae is a family of very small lizards(4 cm to 12 cm long) that live under rocks, inside tree trunks etc. All species in the family are viviparous (giving birth to live young). Night lizards have a flat head and body. Their eyes, like those of snakes, are covered by a transparent membrane.
Geographical range: South-Western and Central North America and Cuba.
Habitat: Rock crevices and damp logs.
Diet: Small insects, termites and plants.
No. of Species: 23
Most popular species: Desert night lizard.
Interesting Fact: Plated lizards make excellent pets as they are usually quite tame and docile. Being omnivorous, these lizards quickly adapt and are commonly traded in pet shops as exotic lizards.
Description: Some species of the family have all four fully developed limbs, and others with vestigial hind limbs only. The heavy coat of plate like scales acts as an excellent armor, making them almost invulnerable to predators.
Geographical range: Africa and Madagascar.
Habitat: rocky crevices and sand dunes.
Diet: Live crickets, small amounts fruits and vegetables.
No. of Species: 34
Most popular species: Sudan plated lizard.
Interesting Fact: It is a misconception that the blue-tongued skink is a venomous species of lizard. The deep-blue tongue of the lizard contributes to this belief, but it is not true. Blue-tongued skink only displays its prominent blue tongue to intimidate potential enemies or when disturbed.
Description: Scincidae are the second most diverse family of lizards (after geckos). Most species have elongated bodies, no pronounced neck and their legs are relatively small. Some species have no limbs at all.
Geographical range: Australia, Central United States and South Asia.
Habitat: Desert, mountains, grassland and burrows.
Diet: Crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars and small rodents.
No. of Species: 1200
Most popular species: Eastern blue-tongued lizard.
Interesting Fact: Spectacled lizards can see with their eyes closed. These lizards are called ‘spectacled’ because they have a transparent lower eyelids, which are movable (unlike geckos).
Description: Spectacled lizards are generally small lizards with most species having reduced limbs, however, mostly the hind limbs are reduced or absent, rather than the forelimbs. In general they look a lot like skinks.
Geographical range: Central America and South America.
Habitat: Deserts, mountains and rainforests.
No. of Species: 200+ (disputed)
Most popular species: Leposoma rugiceps.
Interesting Fact: The tropical girdled lizard is exported from Tanzania and Mozambique for the pet trade. With gentle handling and plenty of hiding places, they become excellent pets and can be trained to accept food from their owner’s hand.
Description: Apart from the flattened heads and bodies, the most distinguishing feature of these lizards is the heavy armor of large, rectangular scales arranged in regular rows around the body and tail. Rings of spines are present on the tail in many species, which is used for defensive purposes.
Geographical range: Southern and Eastern Africa.
Habitat: Crevices in rocky terrain, burrows and tree trunks.
No. of Species: 71
Most popular species: Tropical girdled lizard.
Tegus and Whiptails
Interesting Fact: Some species of whiptail lizards have all-female or nearly all-female populations. These lizard reproduce by parthenogenesis (process of asexual reproduction).
Description: Lizards in the Teiidae family have distinguishing features like scales on the head and a forked, snake-like tongue. They all possess well-developed limbs.
Geographical range: Northern and Central South America.
Habitat: Tropical forests.
Diet: Insects, fruits, seeds, various arthropods, small vertebrates, carrion and eggs.
No. of Species: 230
Most popular species: Gold tegu, Argentine black and white tegu.
True or Wall Lizards
Interesting Fact: Most species of wall lizards are sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females have different patterns.
Description: Lacertidae has some of the most commonly seen lizards in the world. The family is diverse with hundreds of species. These lizards have slender body, long tail and varied patterns and colors. They have large scales on the head, granular scales on the back and rectangular ones at the bottom.
Geographical range: Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Habitat: Diverse (forest, grassland, desert, rocky arid areas)
Diet: Insects, seeds.
No. of Species: 200+
Most popular species: Italian wall lizard.
Wood Lizards, Clubtails
Interesting Fact: Wood lizards are quick and often hide in burrows and under logs, and lead a very secretive life. This is one of the reasons why studies are not carried out on these lizards.
Description: Lizards in this family are predominantly terrestrial. They forage the tropical forest for small insects. Most species have spiny tails, which they use to dig shallow retreats in the ground. Very limited studies have been done on this family of lizards.
Geographical range: Central and South America.
Habitat: Tropical forests.
Diet: Worms crickets and other small insects.
No. of Species: 10
Most popular species: Dunn’s spinytail lizard.
Not all lizards are docile and human-friendly. Lizards that bite humans are very rare, many lizards are suspicious and scared around humans. Except for the Komodo dragon, no lizard species is harmful to humans. Although the Gila monster and Beaded monster are venomous, the venom is not fatal to humans.