Lizards are an order of reptiles, usually small in size (although this isn’t always the case), widespread around the world.
There are over 7,000 species within the order, and in this article, we’ll be going through 21 different types of lizards.
- Dragon Lizards
- Anguidae Lizards
- Beaded Lizards
- Monitor Lizards
- Earless Monitor Lizards
- Worm Lizards
- Wall Lizards
- Spectacled Lizards
- Spinytail Lizards
- Night Lizards
- Legless Lizards
- Helmeted Lizards
- Phrynosomatinae Lizards
- Collared Lizards
- Hoplocercidae Lizards
Scientific name (family): Chamaeleonidae
Chameleons are some of the most famous lizards in the world, well known for their ability to change the color of their scales and their incredibly long tongue. These lizards are found all over Africa, Madagascar, and parts of the Middle East, India, and South Europe.
Their color-changing ability varies from one species to another, and they use this ability to camouflage themselves, but also for social signaling. The color change is also a reaction to temperature changes.
Since darker colors absorb light more than light colors, a chameleon will change its color to lighter colors when it wants to cool down and vice versa.
Chameleons are also known for the use of their tongue – they shoot it out at incredible speeds, reaching prey in less than a tenth of a second! They launch their sticky tongues at insects and pull them into their mouth.
Scientific name (family): Iguanidae
This family consists of iguanas and chuckwallas, and they’re easily recognizable by the spines found across the back and a dewlap hanging off the neck. However, iguana sizes vary greatly between species.
These types of lizards with spines are largely arboreal and most of them are native to South, Central, and North America, as well as surrounding islands. Because of the exotic pet trade, there are now iguanas on islands like Fiji and Japan, but they’re not native to these places.
Even though people often describe them as ‘mean-looking’, iguanas are herbivores and they feed on plants; both foliage and fruits.
3. Dragon Lizards
Scientific name (family): Agamidae
Dragon lizards are actually related to iguanas, but they’re typically not found in South, North, and Central America, which is the biggest difference between the two. They’re mostly found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and some parts of Southern Europe.
They’re one of the few types of lizards that can’t shed their tails, but some species can partly change their color (similar to chameleons) which is primarily done to regulate temperature.
The most famous representative of this family is the frilled lizard, which is a species endemic to Australia, very well-known for its neck frill. This lizard will spread the frill, raise its body and open its mouth, intimidating would-be predators.
4. Anguidae Lizards
Scientific name (family): Anguidae
These lizards are usually found in Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as parts of Africa and South America. The most famous representatives of this family are glass lizards, alligator lizards, and slowworms.
Both slowworms and glass lizards are often mistaken for snakes because they don’t have any legs. Alligator lizards actually resemble alligators a bit because of the hardened scales on their back.
Texas alligator lizards, representatives of this subfamily, are the largest type of lizards in Texas, and it’s also one of the largest alligator lizards in the world.
5. Beaded Lizards
Scientific name (family): Helodermatidae
There are only two species of beaded lizard – the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard, both of which are endemic to North America and parts of Central America.
These lizards are large, heavy, and thick – this makes them very small moving. They’re recognizable by the black and yellow pattern on their back and their characteristically thick tail.
They’re both venomous, with the Gila monster’s venom being considered the most painful venom ever produced. However, fatalities weren’t recorded since the early 20th century. These types of venomous lizards also have massive, painful teeth.
6. Monitor Lizards
Scientific name (genus): Varanus
Monitor lizards are the largest genus of lizards, with the Komodo dragon being its largest representative, growing up to 10 feet and weighing 150 pounds. Some smaller species, such as the Asian water monitor, can also reach the great length of up to 6 feet.
They’re found across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Indonesia, and Australia. A highly mobile species, they’re great hunters, capable of killing anything from insects to large mammals (although the latter is reserved for the largest of lizards).
All monitor lizards are somewhat venomous, with certain species having more developed venom.
7. Earless Monitor Lizards
Scientific name: Lanthanotus borneensis
These lizards are the only living representatives of the Lanthanotidae family. Although they don’t belong to the genus of actual monitor lizards, they are related to them.
Earless monitor lizards are an endangered species found on the island of Borneo and nowhere else. They usually live in rainforests, often near streams or palm oil plantations.
They’re similar to true monitor lizards, but they’re very small (rarely longer than 8 inches), and they have six rows of thick scales on their backs. A snake-like forked tongue is often flicked to taste the air around them.
Venom is present in this species, but it’s much weaker than with true monitor lizards.
8. Worm Lizards
Scientific name (clade): Amphisbaenia
With more than 200 species of lizards in this clade, one could say that they’re the weirdest of all lizards. Simply put – they look like worms. Worm lizards don’t have limbs and only have rudimentary eyes, while their scales are organized in rings, making them look almost identical to earthworms.
They’re found in South America, West, South, and East Africa, as well as the Middle East, Spain, and Portugal. Despite their size and seemingly underdeveloped body, they have very powerful teeth, allowing them to tear chunks of meat from prey.
They mostly feed on insects and insect larvae, but they’ll eat animal carcasses if they find any.
9. Wall Lizards
Scientific name (family): Lacertidae
These lizards are the most common family of lizards in Europe, while they’re also often seen in Africa and Asia, which is why they’re thought of as ‘true lizards’.
There are at least 300 species within this family, and most of them are shorter than 4 inches, with the Gran Canaria giant lizard reaching 18 inches in length (without the tail).
Wall lizards are great climbers, often found on rocks, and they mostly feed on insects.
Scientific name (family): Teiidae
Also known as racerunners, these lizards have highly-developed limbs (at least for lizard standards). They’re highly terrestrial because of their quick movements, and they mostly feed on small animals and insects.
Interestingly, some whiptail species are exclusively female, reproducing by parthenogenesis.
11. Spectacled Lizards
Scientific name (family): Gymnophthalmidae
These lizards are characterized by their ability to see with their eyes closed. Their lower eyelids are transparent, so they can easily see through them. Spectacled lizards are small, often with short legs, and they’re found in all sorts of terrains – from mountains to rainforests.
They inhabit South and Central America where they mostly feed on insects. Some lizards in this family are capable of diving, which is very rare in lizards.
12. Spinytail Lizards
Scientific name (family): Cordylidae
These types of lizards in Africa are characterized by the rings of spines around the tail, which is why they’re called spinytail or girdle-tail lizards. They’re mostly found in South and East Africa.
Spinytail lizards are largely insectivorous, while their spiny tail helps them intimidate predators. They also have large scales spread all over their bodies, making them resemble crocodilians.
Scientific name (family): Scincidae
One of the largest lizard families with over 1500 species, skinks are very similar to wall lizards, but their legs and necks are usually shorter. Just like wall lizards, they can just drop their tails to evade predators.
The Prasinohaema genus of this family is very interesting, as their blood is green because of a waste product called biliverdin. The concentrations of this product can be 40 times higher than in humans, which is why their blood is green.
14. Night Lizards
Scientific name: Xantusiidae
These small lizards, rarely exceeding 5 inches in length, are found in North and Central America, as well as Cuba. They’re called night lizards because they’re very secretive and rarely seen.
This is a consequence of evolution, as they’ve evolved to spend their entire leaves under a rock. Night lizards are omnivorous, although they eat plants only if there aren’t enough insects around.
Scientific name (infraorder): Gekkota
Geckos are very popular lizards as they’re usually friendly towards people, which makes them great pets. In the wild, they’re some of the most widespread lizards in the world, as they’re only absent in Antarctica. There are over 2000 types of geckos in the world.
These types of climbing lizards are very well known because of their climbing abilities. Their toes have special pads which allow them to grip surfaces even if they’re completely flat and dry.
16. Legless Lizards
Scientific name (family): Pygopodidae
Endemic to Australia and New Guinea, these lizards are also called ‘snake lizards’ because of their lack of limbs. They have two reduced hindlimbs, indicating that they’re losing them through evolution, while forelimbs are completely absent.
These types of Australian lizards shouldn’t be confused with snakes – they can vocalize (unlike snakes), while they also have external ears. Some species of legless lizards often feed on snakes and other lizards.
17. Helmeted Lizards
Scientific name (family): Corytophanidae
These lizards develop head crests in the shape of a motorcycle casque helmet, hence the name. They were formerly only found in Central America, from Mexico to Ecuador. Lately, however, their invasive behavior led them to Florida.
They’re omnivorous, and they use their helmet to intimidate predators, making themselves appear large. These types of lizards in Florida can’t drop their tails when they’re chased by a predator, which is odd since most related species can.
Scientific name (family): Dactyloidae
Anoles are a family of lizards similar to geckos, found in Southeastern US (especially Florida and Louisiana), Central America, East Pacific Cocos, Gorgona Island, and subtropical South America. These lizards are characterized by their long tail, which is usually longer than the body, and they also have toe pads similar to geckos, allowing them to climb easily.
These types of lizards in Louisiana are easily recognized by their dewlap – which is a flap of skin located below the neck – which they use to attract partners and scare predators away. This dewlap is also used to indicate the current condition of the animal – similar to a dog’s tail movements.
19. Phrynosomatinae Lizards
Scientific name (family): Phrynosomatinae
Phyrnosomatinae lizards are highly adapted to living in hot and dry environments, and they’re found in Panama to the south and southern Canada in the north.
Two species within this family, desert horned lizards and greater short-horned lizards, are known for their unique adaptation. Desert horned lizards are covered in spikes, and they have several large scales protruding from the back of their heads, making it appear as if they have horns.
The greater short-horned lizard also has pointy scales all over the body and at the back of the head, but they’re shorter and seemingly thicker, and many people confuse them with frogs.
20. Collared Lizards
Scientific name (family): Crotaphytidae
Collared lizards are desert animals usually found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, especially Utah and Arizona. They’re very quick, carnivorous lizards, capable of surviving extreme heat.
Some of these types of lizards in Arizona can reach speeds of up to 16 MPH, at which point they start running on their hind legs. This ability is useful when it comes to hunting, as they eat insects, but also small lizards and snakes.
21. Hoplocercidae Lizards
Scientific name (family): Hoplocercidae
The final family of lizards on the list is found in rainforests and woodlands of South and Central America. Taking the Amazon broad-headed wood lizard as an example, these lizards are arboreal animals with developed climbing abilities.
Some species within the family have coloration mechanisms they use to hide from predators, which are mostly snakes. These lizards are usually insectivorous, feeding on spiders, caterpillars, and larvae.
Lizards are an incredibly large order of animals with more than 7000 discovered species, and probably plenty of undiscovered species. Aside from Antarctica, they’re found across the entire planet, easily adapting to the habitat they find themselves in.
Some lizards, like chameleons, monitor lizards, geckos, and beaded lizards, have developed striking abilities to change colors, scale vertical surfaces with ease, and develop highly potent venom.
In regards to those adaptations, it’s not odd at all that they’re one of the few orders surviving the prehistoric era.