Have you ever heard of a kid going out into their backyard to find a small, scale-covered friend? Perhaps you were that little explorer. One relatively harmless critter to catch while out in the sun was a lizard. But, did you ever stop to think about what they ate, how they found their food, or if they needed water? In this article, we will explore the diet of lizards and what makes these scaly friends so unique.
WHAT DO LIZARDS EAT?
Lizards can either be carnivorous or herbivorous, depending on the studied species. Herbivores will consume a variety of fruits, leaves and other greens. Carnivorous lizards eat meat such as insects, worms, eggs, lizards, rodents, snakes, birds and abandoned carcasses.
The diet of a lizard depends on a number of variables such as habitat, body size and available prey items.
Now that you have a general idea about what these animals eat, how can you tell them apart from other reptiles?
WHAT DO LIZARDS EAT IN THE WILD?
Remember the suborder Squamata? This is the largest known suborder belonging to Reptilia. Lizards make up a good percentage. In fact, there are almost 5,000 species overall. Given the fact that lizards can be found on each continent aside from Antarctica, the diets of these reptiles vary between species.
Looking at a few more well-known types of lizards helps to grasp what these animals are capable of eating on a daily basis.
Located under the family Chamaeleonidae, these lizards are among some of the more unique individuals. These animals are most iconic for their ability to change color as well as having long, extendable tongues and a crest behind their heads. Their feet are another strong indicator as they are able to easily grip branches.
The vast majority of chameleons live on the continent of Africa with a few species being scattered across pockets of Europe, Asia and Madagascar. They live in warmer environments such as rain forests and deserts where they are able to take refuge in trees or on dry branches.
Did you know that a chameleon could extend its tongue more than twice its body length? This is an extremely useful tactic as they mostly prey on insects, particularly grasshoppers, crickets, stick insects and locusts. There are a few larger species that will prey upon injured birds or lizards. Chameleons have also been known to eat plant material when insects aren’t abundant.
Another popular lizard, the gecko, belongs to the family Eublepharidae. They share all of the characteristic traits that a lizard possesses except for its lack of eyelids. Have you ever observed a gecko lick its eye? This is to add moisture in the warmer climates. These lizards are quite adaptive, living around the world aside from Antarctica in rain forests, deserts and mountainous ranges.
Geckos make up a larger portion of recorded lizards. In fact, there are a little over 2,000 gecko species currently recorded by biologists. Remember how the chameleon was known for their modified feet? The gecko is the same. On the end of each toe is a pad that aids in climbing vertical structures. This is due to the small hairs that allow them to stick to surfaces. In the wild, this may be a useful tactic.
The fact about geckos is that they are quite the tenacious predator. They will eat anything smaller than their own body weight. Their favorite meal is often a cricket or grasshopper, but they will prey on other invertebrates such as spiders and scorpions.
A smaller group of lizards, iguanas, is much less widespread and uniquely modified. These larger bodied animals with a long tail and long spines along the back characterize the family Iguanidae or the iguanas. There are a total of 35 separate species known to date.
These reptiles are found in the more humid areas of the world. This includes South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They tend to occupy tropical habitats, though some are found near the coastal waters.
Compared to the previously discussed types of lizards, iguanas are almost strictly herbivorous, meaning that they rely on plant matter to survive. Such vegetation includes leaves, roots, fruits, and flowers. Iguanas that stick near water will eat algae that grow along the rocky shoreline.
You can’t discuss these reptiles without the largest known lizard to exist. The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) belongs to the family Varanidae or the monitor lizards. They are set apart from other lizards for their powerful jaws. With a reptile averaging about 70 kilograms in weight, the Komodo dragon is the king of all lizards.
This type of lizard lives exclusively on the Sundra region of the Indonesian archipelago. You may have guessed that it was named after the “Komodo Island”, where it was first discovered in 1910. Their habitat typically involves tropical savannah forests, though you can run into them on riverbeds, beaches, and open lowlands.
With such a powerful jaw, the Komodo dragon can take down a larger variety of prey. Though, this isn’t the only trait that it uses to hunt. They also have a venomous bite that will paralyze their prey. These animals are carnivores, preying on various meat items such as insects, wild pigs, deer, water buffalo, eggs and other lizards. Adults will conserve energy by consuming carrion, or animal carcasses.
At first glance, the Legless lizard may be mistaken for a snake. The family Pygopodidae, or legless lizards, can be tricky to distinguish with their long bodies that lack limbs. If you were to see these reptiles up close, you may notice a groove down the length of the body. This is where the legs would grow if they were to have legs. These animals also have eyelids, which snakes do not.
Legless lizards live in a variety of habitats including hillsides, grasslands, and prairies. They are also found in a few different continents. North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia make up the most commonly found areas.
Did you know that some legless lizards actually have limbs? Regardless of their available appendages, these reptiles are known for hunting down insects, worms and small mammals that aren’t too large. They use their slender bodies to glide across the ground in search of slower prey
HOW DO LIZARDS FIND THEIR PREY?
Depending on the type of lizard, each of these cold-bodied animals one or more of their traits to find food.
If you were to study a lizard’s body, you might notice that the eyes are quite enlarged. The gecko is a perfect example of this. This is where their senses come in. The majority of lizards actually use their eyesight to find potential food, staying completely still until they see an insect or a worm cross their vision.
Most lizards are known for having a tongue that is small and round so that it will stay out of the way. Other individuals, such as the Komodo dragon, sport a forked tongue. They use this interesting organ to pinpoint the direction and proximity of their prey, much like a snake would.
When considering the word “venom”, you most likely picture a snake, right? Well, lizards can also share this adaptation. Monitor lizards and iguanas have been known to share the title of “venomous reptiles”. Snakes use their venom to both wound and paralyze their prey. Lizards, on the other hand, merely want to render the foe useless and unable to run away. The bacterium secreted in this venom is temporary, as it does not kill.
Although the thought of a venomous lizard may be unsettling, the amount of venom in most of these reptiles cannot seriously harm a human. And better yet, there are approximately 100 species with venom out of the known 5,000 species.
One known fact about lizards is their ability to stay still, especially when in pursuit of a meal. Lizards are ectotherms, meaning that they can’t keep their own bodies warm as we can. Instead, they must rely on their environment. By staying completely still in the sun, a lizard can thermoregulate, or gain energy from the sun. This helps them be able to attack when the moment is right.
A useful tool that lizards use to find their prey is through successful hiding. Have you noticed what color the scales are on these reptiles? Typically, they match their surroundings. For instance, the spotted leopard gecko fits in amongst the sandy pebbles. Chameleons, on the other hand, can change their color to match the substrate around them. Some chameleons need to switch hues between the seasons. With camouflage, a lizard can wait until an insect is practically on top of them.
Can such a small reptile have teeth? The simplest answer is yes. Lizards, just like most reptiles, are fitted with a row of sharp teeth inside their mouths. The shape and size of the tooth differ depending on the species. They can be grouped into two separate categories: acrodont and pleurodont. Lizards with acrodont teeth have a sharper edge that is associated with biting. Animals using these teeth are more carnivorous such as chameleons and geckos. Pleurodont teeth are more rounded with a smooth tipped edge. Iguanas use these teeth to scrape off and consume plant material.
Most lizards have teeth, which can help in digestion. By having those spiky bones in their mouth, they can chew up their food before passing it along to the esophagus. The esophagus, unlike in other animals, acts as a storage place for their meals until it continues down into the stomach. This is where food is dissolved and broken down through the use of hydrochloric acid. Partly broken down food then moves on to the intestinal tract before leaving the body. Did you know that herbivorous lizard have a longer digestion rate than those who use their teeth to grind up the food? The advantage of eating plant material, however, is that there is more water being absorbed back into the body.
DO LIZARDS DRINK WATER?
The need for water can depend entirely on where the individual lizard takes refuge. Remembering that these animals are ectotherms means that their bodies are highly influenced by the environment around them. Areas that are warmer can be more challenging. In these situations, lizards are known to absorb any water through their skin. Other animals such as mammals will get water from the food that they eat, but reptiles don’t rely on this method. Their thick scales aid in keeping the water inside their bodies without sweating it out.
What about those lizards that live in more humid areas? The fact of the matter is that even a cooler lizard doesn’t need much water. Iguanas are great examples of this. Living close to bodies of water, these reptiles tend to get some of their liquid daily requirements from fruits and plants. They will also be seen drinking water, either by a puddle or the plants after a misty morning.
WHAT FOOD DOES A BABY LIZARD NEED?
Baby lizards are most commonly referred to as hatchlings. This is due to the fact that most lizards lay eggs. These baby animals are quite self-sufficient, eating what a smaller adult can stomach from the very start.
Hatchlings, or baby lizards, will experiment by eating just about anything that they can fit in their mouth. Typical targets include various insects such as ants, harmless spiders and ants. They will also consume smaller wormsfound in the dirt.
WHAT DO LIZARDS EAT IN CAPTIVITY?
Having a lizard as a pet is far from surprising. Those who want an animal that requires minimal care tend to go with some sort of reptile. The most popular pet lizards tend to be chameleons, iguanas, geckos and bearded dragons.
If you were to compare the diets of pet lizards, you would conclude that they mostly prefer different types of insects. This makes them an insectivore. Crickets make up for the favorite insect. Captive lizards will also need leafy greens to complement their diet. Researching what exactly your lizard should eat on a daily basis is pivotal in maintaining a healthy pet. You may even find yourself needing to feed them worms and frozen mice for a complete and enriching diet.
Lizards belong to the class comprising all reptiles, also known as Reptilia. This is where a lot of people have trouble. To make it easier, it is best to break it down further to the order Squamata, where critters with scales are grouped together. The suborder, Lacertilia, makes up all lizards. These animals are characterized for their four legs, short necks, rounded bodies and a lengthy tail. There are a few outliers, but the majority of lizards share these qualities.
Lizard taxonomy may be confusing at first, but it is pivotal in understanding why these reptiles have such a varied diet.
What food attracts lizards?
Do lizards bite you?
Most lizards do have teeth and therefore can bite you. These animals are unlikely to attack unless provoked. To avoid being bitten by a gecko or other nearby lizard, keep a safe distance. You may want to pick them up just as when you were a kid, but this can result in the animal becoming nervous.
Can some lizards drop their tails?
One defense mechanism that various lizards share is their ability to drop their tail. This is where the back half of the reptile essentially falls off. Fat-tailed geckos use this to avoid being eaten by predators. The tail is specially designed to look like the head of the lizard. When a bird picks up their tail, they can escape by simply dropping their tail. It is quite painful and can take over 60 days to fully regenerate.
What predators do lizards have?
Being a smaller animal, these reptiles are quite low on the food chain. Their most common foes are larger birds such as eagles and hawks. They can also fall prey to mammals, larger lizards and various species of snakes.
Lizards are known as a usually small and mighty reptile. They tend to share long tails, four limbs and tough scales. As a whole, they can be found eating a variety of foods such as insects, fruits, plants, eggs, other lizards and even various mammals. Being ectotherms, these animals rely on their hunting abilities to get a meal before basking in the sun. The next time you see a lizard laying on a rock, keep your distance and simply admire how much work it is to be a small lizard on the food chain.