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Awesome Facts About Lizards

Abhijit Naik
Approximately 5,600 species of lizards have been identified on the planet as of today. These scaly reptiles are found on all the continents of the world; Antarctica being the lone exception.

Megalania Vs. Komodo dragon

At 18 ft, Megalania prisca―the largest terrestrial lizard known to have ever existed on the Earth―was nearly twice the size of the Komodo dragon, which boasts of being the largest extant lizard.
Lizards come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiniest of them all, the 1.1-inch Brookesia micra, to the Komodo dragon, which can grow on to attain a length of 10 ft or more. These reptiles have been thriving on the planet for more than 200 million years, and yet, we can't really boast of knowing everything about them. In fact, several lizard facts which had been eluding us all this while, have just surfaced over the last decade or so. The discovery of Brookesia micra, for instance, is one of the best examples of the same.

Amazing Facts about Lizards

Lizards are categorized into different types―the most popular ones being geckos, iguanas, and chameleons. Without getting into the generic details, here are a few fascinating facts about these reptilian species that make them so interesting.

Largest Lizard Species

With an average length of 10 ft, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) ―native to the Komodo and its neighboring islands in Indonesia―is the largest extant species of lizard in the world. Its powerful bite and ability to ambush the prey makes the Komodo dragon an excellent hunter.
The species is known for its ability to bring down animals much larger than itself. It may come across as weird, but the Komodo dragon uses its toxic saliva as a potent weapon. When it bites its prey, the bacteria in its saliva enter the prey's body, weaken its immune system, and the prey eventually dies of sepsis.

Smallest Lizard Species

In stark contrast to the huge Komodo dragon is the Brookesia micra species, the smallest lizard in the world. A chameleon native to Madagascar, the Brookesia micra measures no more than 1.1 inches, i.e., 30 mm, from nose to tail.
The species was discovered by a team of researchers from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology during their expeditions between 2003 and 2007.

Venomous Lizards

Of the 5,600 odd lizard species that have been identified on the Earth, only two―the Gila monster (Heloderma sucpectum) and Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum) are venomous.
These lizards are not considered a threat for humans primarily because of two reasons: (i) their venom is not potent enough to kill humans and (ii) they are very sluggish in nature. Though not life-threatening, their bites can be extremely painful at times.
The Komodo dragon is widely considered a venomous species, which is technically incorrect. If the prey dies as a result of its bite, it is because of the infection caused by bacteria in its saliva―not its venom.

Fastest Lizard

The black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis) is the fastest running lizard in the world―a fact that has been acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as well.
This lizard can clock a speed of 27 mph with ease. It's this speed and the fact that they are excellent climbers that help these iguanas escape their predators.

Longest Living Species

The Grand Cayman iguana (Cyclura lewisi), endemic to the island of Grand Cayman, is widely considered the species with the longest lifespan. The estimated lifespan of 69 years is based on a specimen named Godzilla, which was held in captivity in Brownsville (Texas)―the longest living lizard in the world.
With an estimated 750 individuals in the wild, the Grand Cayman iguana is enlisted as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Some lizards known for their considerably long lifespan are the Lesser Caymans iguana (Cyclura nubila caymanensis), Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum) native to Mexico and southern Gautemala, and the slow worm (Anguis fragilis)―a legless lizard found in Eurasia.

Blood Squirting Lizards

Some species of Horned lizards have an amazing ability to squirt blood from their eyes as a part of their defense mechanism.
These include the Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare), desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos), short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), and the coast horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum). Some of these lizards can squirt a stream of blood up to a distance of 4 - 5 ft.

Flying (Gliding) Lizards

The lizards belonging to the genus Draco, native to southeast Asia, have a peculiar ability of gliding in air to move from one tree to another. These agamids have specially designed membranes which connects their front limbs to rear limbs.
They jump off the trees, spread these membranes as if it were their wings, and glide to move from one place to another. It
makes them appear as if they are flying and thus, they are called 'flying lizards'.

Proficient Climbers

Most of the lizards in the world have suction cups on their feet, which makes them good climbers―a lifesaving trait for these species.
While geckos don't have suction cups on their feet, the tiny hair-like structures on their feet help them climb even the smooth, vertical surfaces, including the glass walls of an aquarium, with immense ease.

Exceptional Communication Skills

Geckos are the only lizards armed with vocal cords and thus, the only species with the ability to make vocal sounds.
Other lizards resort to body language, like posturing and gestures, to communicate. This method of communication by signs is effectively used by these reptiles to demarcate their territory, threaten predators, attract mating partners, and so on.

Camouflage or some other purpose?

Other than their eyes, which move independently facilitating 360-degree vision, chameleons are also known for their ability to change their skin coloration. Previously, it was believed that the species resorted to this mechanism for camouflaging. More recently, however, it has been revealed that the change in skin coloration has more to do with social signaling and abiotic conditions in the vicinity.

Ace Sprinters

Those species which are not able climbers are gifted with the ability to sprint. The basilisks and collared lizards, native to the Americas, have a fascinating ability of running on their hind legs. The phenomenon is referred to as bipedal locomotion.
In fact, basilisks can even run on the surface of water; especially when they are young. This unique ability has earned them the nickname, The Jesus Christ lizards.

Remarkable Senses

Most lizards have an amazing eyesight―some are even equipped with highly acute color vision―and a vomeronasal organ, using which they taste the air, like snakes.
Though species like the Green iguana have a third eye with a retina and lens on their head, it is meant to help them regulate hormone production―not for sight.

Defense Mechanism

The defense mechanism of these reptiles is amazing. While horned lizards squirt blood from their eyes, frilled lizards expand the scaly skin around their neck to intimidate the predator with their size.
Similarly, the armadillo girdled lizard grabs its tail and rolls into a spiny ball when attacked by the predator. Then there are species like the Southern alligator lizard and long-nosed leopard lizard, which resort to caudal autotomy, (they shed a part of their tail in a dangerous situation).

Recently Extinct Species

At least two species of lizards, the Roque Chico de Salmor giant lizard (Gallotia simonyi simonyi) and Santo Stefano lizard (Podarcis sicula sanctistephani) have become extinct in the last 100 years.
While the Roque Chico de Salmor giant lizard fell prey to feral cats and excessive collection by humans, the Santo Stefano species had to deal with feral cats plus an epidemic which brought about a drastic decline in their population.
The Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) which was believed to have become extinct since 1948, made a miraculous appearance in 1990. Today, the species is enlisted as one of the world's 100 most threatened species.
While these facts may leave you amazed, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts believe that there is lot more to know about these reptiles. They are of the firm belief that whatever we know―as of now―is just the tip of the iceberg. And therefore, there is no questioning the fact that lizards will continue to fascinate us in the future, just like they have been doing for millions of years.