LIZARDS ARE WIZARDS
By Gerry Bishop and Ellen Lambeth
A lizard’s world is full of hungry snakes, hawks, foxes, and other predators—including bigger lizards. With more than 3,000 kinds of lizards in the world, you can bet they’ve come up with some pretty tricky ways to stay alive. Take a look!
TONS OF TRICKS
The horned lizards of the American West have colors that blend in with their surroundings. When one flattens out on the ground (above), it looks more like a lump of dirt than a living creature. If a predator does try to grab a horned lizard, it may back off from the prickly surprise. The lizard may also rise up (far left) or puff itself up with air to look too large to be eaten.
If all this fails to fool an enemy, some horned lizards may use still another trick: squirting drops of blood from their eyes. The nasty-tasting, bright red mess may surprise an attacker, giving the lizard time to dash for cover.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
If something's coming to get you, take off and hide!
The fringe-toed lizard lives in the deserts of the American Southwest. This speedy reptile has long toes with scales along the edges—perfect for getting a good grip as it races across soft sand. To escape a roadrunner or any other enemy in quick pursuit, the lizard zigzags and then suddenly dives headfirst into the sand. Using its hind feet, the lizard “swims” under the surface until it completely disappears. Later, it pokes up its head to see if it’s safe to come out.
WATCH A LIZARD SAND SWIMMING
The basilisks (BAS-uh-lisks) of South America are lively lizards that often stand up and run on their long hind legs. If they’re near a stream, they may run right across the water’s surface! Flaps on their long toes work as water skis to keep them from sinking.
This flying dragon (top right photo) spends its time high up in the trees of Borneo’s tropical forests. If a snake or other enemy sneaks up on it, the lizard may leap suddenly into the air. Instantly, wing-like flaps of skin flare out from its sides. The lizard then glides down to a nearby tree or the ground, out of harm’s way.
Africa’s dwarf plated lizard wears a long, colorful tail. If a predator goes in for the grab, it will probably focus on this blue back end. But the lizard can easily shed its tail, which continues to wiggle. The bright color and twitchy movement get all the enemy’s attention. Meanwhile, the lizard slips away to live another day. Don’t worry—a new tail will grow in the old one’s place.
DON'T BACK DOWN
If speed isn't your thing, just bluff and act tough!
The sand goanna (goh-AH-nuh) is a big Australian bluffer. If it’s challenged, it quickly stands up on its hind legs, hisses, and whips its tail. Its “stay away” message is loud and clear!
When Australia’s frilled lizard is threatened, it turns to face its attacker. It opens its large mouth, and a frill of skin around its neck pops open like an umbrella. Suddenly, the frightened lizard has become a big-headed, scary monster.
On the grassy plains of Africa lives the spiny-skinned armadillo lizard. Usually this lizard stays hidden in cracks in rocks. But if caught out in the open, it quickly rolls up and grabs its tail in its mouth. Any enemy silly enough to take a bite ends up with a mouthful of hard, sharp spines. Yowch!
What does a blue-tongued skink do when it senses danger? It opens its mouth wide and sticks out its tongue! The surprising color and nasty look may make a hungry enemy think twice before attacking.
Tricks are great when they work. But when they don’t, a lizard’s last hope may be a hard bite. The Gila monster of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico has no fangs, but it has venom. When bothered, this lizard becomes a fierce biter! It whips its head and goes snap-snap with its powerful jaws. That makes most enemies jump back. Good job, Lizard Wizard!
"Lizards Are Wizards" originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
Click here for a closer view of the photos.