The Lizard Family: Characteristics and Curious Facts

Harmless and rather cute with it, lizards are one of the best-known small reptiles. We'll tell you all about the lizard family today.
The Lizard Family: Characteristics and Curious Facts

Last update: 17 December, 2021

It’s easy to distinguish any of the more than four thousand species that belong to the lizard family. These animals belong to the families Gekkonidae and Lacertidae, and some of their characteristics can vary quite a lot.

These small reptiles live in every continent of the world except Antarctica, crawling on all kinds of surfaces, in homes, and in the open air, with their typically nervous movements.

Lizards are often considered to be rather cute, and they’re totally harmless. This is why some people even adopt lizards as pets. However, they’re elusive and prefer to hide in cracks, bushes, or rocks rather than have direct contact with humans.

The taxonomy of the lizard family

The term lizard refers to a type of small, elongated reptile that moves as if it were crawling. The lizard family doesn’t actually form a formal taxonomic group, which means that this name is just colloquial. Even so, most of them share certain traits which makes it easy to identify them with the naked eye.

Main characteristics of lizards

The lizard can reach an average lifespan of 10 years and measure up to 10 cm (4 inches), not including the tail. Their tails are longer than their bodies and, in some cases, can triple its length, as is the case with the common collared lizard (Psammodromus algirus). In addition, they have the ability to shed their tails when trying to escape from predators.

As for their skin, it’s covered in tiny scales with a greater preponderance on the back than on the abdomen. The colors and shades range from dark and light green to brown.

Males and females can be distinguished because the former have brighter colorations, while the females have opaque shades.

One of the lizard family.

As for their eating habits, lizards look for all kinds of small or medium-sized insects. From snails to beetles, everything is appealing to this carnivorous animal. Its great predatory instinct and its ability to adapt to almost any region of the planet stand out. Despite this, some species are herbivorous.

Reproduction

Another fact that allows the lizard to spread easily around the world is the versatility of its reproduction. This means that they can use any of the following strategies:

  • Oviparity: They lay a certain number of eggs that are incubated for the development of their young. Most species have this reproductive strategy.
  • Viviparity: This means that they give birth to live young from their womb (like mammals). Few specimens exhibit this condition, although one of the best known is the peat lizard (Zootoca vivipara).
  • Ovoviviparity: This is the intermediate point between the two previous ones. Females produce eggs that they hold in their wombs and release them just as they hatch.

These reptiles can reproduce between one and three times a year. In each event, up to a dozen offspring can be counted. The larger the mother, the greater the number of hatchlings.

Females tend to be gregarious during the incubation period; they actually keep each other company and often wait together for the hatchling to be born.

The lizard, a desirable host

This kind of reptile is well received wherever it goes. The reason for this is its ability to stabilize ecosystems by being a key link in the food chain.

The lizard is responsible for killing, for example, the pests that plague the world’s crops, such as snails, locusts, and all kinds of insects present on crops. Also, in urban areas, the lizard prevents the proliferation of mosquitoes, flies, spiders, beetles or various worms.

Lizard in the sun

Sunbathing gives great pleasure to this cold-blooded animal. After a long sleep in its hideout, on warm days it seeks the contact of sunlight on its scales.

In turn, this sunbathing gives the lizard the opportunity to patiently scan every millimeter of the area around it. The sun produces a nourishing or energy recharging effect on the lizard, which awaits the arrival of insects.

The lizard’s tongue has excellent sensory qualities which, together with its visual acuity, give it high-caliber hunting properties. The lizard can spend hours at rest, with its belly throbbing and the rest of its body motionless.

But these hours of rest aren’t wasted by this small reptile, as it’ll be constantly on the prowl. Once it charges up with solar energy, it sets off to satisfy its hunger for the whole winter.

The language of the lizard

The lizard has a language of its own. To communicate with another member of its species, it uses a series of specific movements and postures. These actions are performed to defend the territory from any enemy attack.

In some variants of this species, the scales can change color, which expresses the animal’s mood. Another way it manifests itself is to drop its tail when it’s frightened by a threat or predator. The tail wags and distracts its predators long enough for it to escape. Within a week, the tail will have grown back.

Best-known lizards

Although there are so many different types of these small reptiles, certain species are better known than others. The following are just a few of the better-known lizards:

  • The Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus)
  • Common flying dragon (Draco volans)
  • Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)
  • Iberian lizard (Podarcis hispanicus)
  • Spiny-footed lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus)
  • Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

As we’ve seen, the lizard family is one of the best-adapted groups around. If you find one, you should never harm it. If it seems in danger, try to place it in any safe place you should find, such as a tree.

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Lizards are one of the most numerous and diverse suborders of reptiles. Find out about the main types of lizards and their different traits.