Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with over 6,000 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica, as well as most oceanic island chains. The group is paraphyletic as it excludes the snakes and Amphisbaenia; some lizards are more closely related to these two excluded groups than they are to other lizards. Lizards range in size from chameleons and geckos a few centimetres long to the 3-meter long Komodo dragon.
In this blog Pritish Kumar, Pritish Kumar explained Lizards and their different features.
Most lizards are quadrupedal, running with a strong side-to-side motion. Some lineages (known as “legless lizards”), have secondarily lost their legs, and have long snake-like bodies. Some such as the forest-dwelling Draco lizards are able to glide. They are often territorial, the males fighting off other males and signalling, often with brightly colours, to attract mates and to intimidate rivals. Lizards are mainly carnivorous, often being sit-and-wait predators; many smaller species eat insects, while the Komodo eats mammals as big as water buffalo.
Lizards typically have rounded torsos, elevated heads on short necks, four limbs and long tails, although some are legless. Lizards and snakes share a movable quadrate bone, distinguishing them from the rhynchocephalians, which have more rigid diapsid skulls. Some lizards such as chameleons have prehensile tails, assisting them in climbing among vegetation.
As in other reptiles, the skin of lizards is covered in overlapping scales made of keratin. This provides protection from the environment and reduces water loss through evaporation. This adaptation enables lizards to thrive in some of the driest deserts on earth. The skin is tough and leathery, and is shed (sloughed) as the animal grows. Unlike snakes which shed the skin in a single piece, lizards slough their skin in several pieces. The scales may be modified into spines for display or protection, and some species have bone osteoderms underneath the scales.
Lizards make use of their senses of sight, touch, olfaction and hearing like other vertebrates. The balance of these varies with the habitat of different species; for instance, skinks that live largely covered by loose soil rely heavily on olfaction and touch, while geckos depend largely on acute vision for their ability to hunt and to evaluate the distance to their prey before striking. Monitor lizards have acute vision, hearing, and olfactory senses.
Some lizards make unusual use of their sense organs: chameleons can steer their eyes in different directions, sometimes providing non-overlapping fields of view, such as forwards and backwards at once. Lizards lack external ears, having instead a circular opening in which the tympanic membrane (eardrum) can be seen. Many species rely on hearing for early warning of predators, and flee at the slightest sound.
Until 2006 it was thought that the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard were the only venomous lizards. However, several species of monitor lizards, including the Komodo dragon, produce powerful venom in their oral glands. Lace monitor venom, for instance, causes swift loss of consciousness and extensive bleeding through its pharmacological effects, both lowering blood pressure and preventing blood clotting. Nine classes of toxin known from snakes are produced by lizards. The range of actions provides the potential for new medicinal drugs based on lizard venom proteins.
Reproduction and lifecycle
As with all amniotes, lizards rely on internal fertilization and copulation involves the male inserting one of his hemipenes into the female’s cloaca. The majority of species are oviparous (egg laying). The female deposits the eggs in a protective structure like a nest or crevice or simply on the ground. Depending on the species, clutch size can vary from 4–5 percent of the females body weight to 40–50 percent and clutches range from one or a few large eggs to dozens of small ones.
In most lizards, the eggs have leathery shells to allow for the exchange of water, although more arid-living species have calcified shells to retain water. Inside the eggs, the embryos use nutrients from the yolk. Parental care is uncommon and the female usually abandons the eggs after laying them. Brooding and protection of eggs does occur in some species. The female prairie skink uses respiratory water loss to maintain the humidity of the eggs which facilitates embryonic development. In lace monitors, the young hatch close to 300 days, and the female returns to help them escape the termite mound where the eggs were laid.
Lizards signal both to attract mates and to intimidate rivals. Visual displays include body postures and inflation, push-ups, bright colours, mouth gapings and tail waggings. Male anoles and iguanas have dewlaps or skin flaps which come in various sizes, colours and patterns and the expansion of the dewlap as well as head-bobs and body movements add to the visual signals. Some species have deep blue dewlaps and communicate with ultraviolet signals.
Blue-tongued skinks will flash their tongues as a threat display. Chameleons are known to change their complex colour patterns when communicating, particularly during agonistic encounters. They tend to show brighter colours when displaying aggression and darker colours when they submit or “give up”.
The majority of lizard species are predatory and the most common prey items are small, terrestrial invertebrates, particularly insects. Many species are sit-and-wait predators though others may be more active foragers. Chameleons prey on numerous insect species, such as beetles, grasshoppers and winged termites as well as spiders.
They rely on persistence and ambush to capture this prey. An individual perches on a branch and stays perfectly still, with only its eyes moving. When an insect lands, the chameleon focuses its eyes on the target and slowly moves towards it before projecting its long sticky tongue which, when hauled back, brings the attach prey with it. Geckos feed on crickets, beetles, termites and moths.
Termites are an important part of the diets of some species of Autarchoglossa, since, as social insects, they can be found in large numbers in one spot. Ants may form a prominent part of the diet of some lizards, particularly among the lacertas. Horned lizards are also well known for specializing on ants. Due to their small size and indigestible chitin, ants must be consumed in large amounts, and ant-eating lizards have larger stomachs than even herbivorous ones. Species of skink and alligator lizards eat snails and their power jaws and molar-like teeth are adapted for breaking the shells.