Desert Lizards & Their Amazing World | ScienceMonk

Desert Lizards are either the desert-dwelling lizards or in particular, some prominent lizards living in the desert such as Desert Horned Lizard, Desert Night Lizard, Gila Monster, Chuckwalla, Desert Iguana, Collared Lizard, Zebra-tailed Lizard, Leopard Lizard, and the list goes on!

One of the most interesting facts of the lizards is, they are Cold Blooded Reptiles but are found in both cold places like forests and hottest places like deserts.

Desert Lizards
Desert Lizards

The question is, ”If they are cold-blooded reptiles then how are they able to survive in the world’s hottest places like deserts?”. In this vast earth, with diverse ecosystems, in order to survive in an extreme climate one needs some special adaptations to survive; so does the lizards require in order to survive in the harsh climatic conditions of the desert.

Some Special Adoptions of Desert Lizards:

Desert lizards cannot regulate their internal temperature, so they have adapted to the climatic conditions by special mechanisms as well as by using the clever trick of burrowing!

  • Metachromatism:

Metachromatism is a special ability to adjust the body color in accordance with the variations of temperature. As the temperature ranges in the desert are extreme, this physical change helps the lizard to keep its body cool or hot. The skin color turns darker, as temperatures drop, thereby increasing heat absorption. Whereas in high temperatures, the skin becomes light in color, which results in lowering the absorption of heat, keeping the lizards cool.

  • Thermoregulation:

The behavioral adaptation by the lizard is thermoregulation(a process by which the internal core temperature of the body is kept regulated). If the temperature of lizards goes too high they move into places like shade. Whereas if the temperature is too low they adopt two ways: Insolation & Conduction. Insolation is the absorption of heat through sun rays (i.e. going to places where sun rays are dominant). Conduction is the absorption of heat from the ground.

  • Burrowing:

Underground passages or burrows are created by lizards (or other animals) to escape the heat. The lizards reside in the burrows temporarily or for a longer period of time in order to escape the scorching heat.


Desert Lizards

Desert Lizard


As we know, lizards are one of the most widespread creatures, ranging all over the globe, except Antarctica. There are over 6000 species of this reptile, ranging from the evergreen tropical rainforests to the arid deserts.

Here are some of the most fascinating desert lizards from the list mentioned before:

  • Desert Horned Lizard

  1. The Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma Platyrhinos) is commonly found in western North America.
  2. These types of lizards have scaled down its sides with a flat body, with scales extending to each side of their throat. They have two dark prominent blotches on their neck.
  3. They generally have varying colours, blending with the surrounding soil but commonly they can be beige or have a combination of reddish and dark colours.
  4. They generally prey upon insects such as grasshoppers, ants, flies, worms, etc.
  5. They are mostly found in the rocky arid areas of plains and hills in the Arizona Upland.
  6. The mating season starts between April-July. An average of 15 eggs is laid. The young lizards are about 7/8 inches long.
  7. They have a life expectancy of about 5-8 years.
  8. When these lizards feel threatened they puff up their body in order to look bigger.

A Desert Horned Lizard
A Desert Horned Lizard
  • Desert Night Lizard:

  1. This Night Lizard (Xantusia vigils) is found in the east of Sierras, western Arizona, and southern Nevada.
  2. These lizards are typically 1.5 to 3 inches long with a tail of the same length. Usually grey or light brown in colour, they can easily change their colour.
  3. Though called night lizards, they are quite active during the day.
  4. They feed on termites, spiders or small insects.
  5. These lizards are viviparous and give birth to 1-3 live young. They are usually born in the months of August to December.

A Desert Night Lizard
A Desert Night Lizard
  • Gila Monster:

  1. The Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) is one of the only two venomous lizards (the other is Mexican beaded lizard).  Gila monster is found in the southwestern United States.
  2. It can grow up to 2 ft. long, with the tail about 20% its body size.
  3. The Gila monsters can be found in deserts, oak woodland and seek shelter in burrows and under rocks.
  4. The diet of these lizards comprises of small birds, insects, smaller lizards and primarily feeds on eggs.
  5. The reptile has its venom in the lower jaw in the modified salivary glands. The venom is not fatal to humans.
  6. The females lay around 2-12 eggs from July to August.

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Gila Monster
Gila Monster
  • Chuckwalla: Desert Lizard

  1. These are six species of large lizards and are placed in the genus Sauromalus, found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
  2. They are wide-bodied, with thick tapering tails. The common chuckwallas are about 15 inches long.
  3. The chuckwallas are found in rocky areas.
  4. They are herbivorous and eat leaves, fruit, and flowers. Sometimes they feed on insects.
  5. The males are territorial.
  6. The mating occurs between April to July and the female lays 5-16 eggs.
  7. They have a life expectancy of about 25 years.




  • Desert Iguana:

  1. The Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) resides in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
  2. The iguana is pale grey in colour with a light brown pattern on its back and sides.
  3. The tail is 1.5 times longer than the body. The average size of the iguana is 24 inches.
  4. These lizards are found mostly in dry bushes, rocky streambeds, and tropical forests. The iguanas can survive in high temperatures, in fact, a temperature range of 28°C- 38°C is favourable for the hatching of their eggs.
  5. Around 3 to 8 eggs are laid and the hatchlings are born in the month of September.
  6. The iguanas eat fruits and buds of many perennial and annual plants, making them herbivorous.


Desert Iguana
Desert Iguana
  • Collared Lizard: Desert Lizard

  1. The Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) is found in the states of Texas, Arizona, Colorado and the dry, open regions of Mexico.
  2. This lizard gets its name from the black bands around the lizard’s neck, which represents a collar.
  3. These lizards can be 8-15 inches long with sharp powerful jaws. They are capable of running in their hind legs.
  4. The males have a blue-green body with a light brown head whereas the females have a light brown head and body.
  5. These lizards are preferably found in rocky areas and have a life-span of 5-8 years.
  6. Collared lizards mainly prey on small lizards and insects.
  7. The females are known to lay 4-6 eggs.

Collared Lizard
Collared Lizard
  • Zebra-Tailed Lizard:

  1. The zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) is native to Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
  2. These lizards are found in rocky areas, scattered vegetation, and plain lands.
  3. With grey to sandy brown colour, these lizards are around 2 to 4 inches long. The males have a blue patch in their bellies whereas it is absent in females. The tail of these lizards is white with black crossbars.
  4. The females lay 2 to 8 eggs which hatch in July to November.
  5. They prey on insects, ants, spiders, buds, flowers, and smaller lizards.

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A Zebra-tailed Lizard
A Zebra-tailed Lizard
  • Leopard Lizard:

  1. The Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii) is found in the western parts of the United States including Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado desert.
  2. The lizard has brown or grey spots with a white or grey body. The male is around 5 inches long and the females around 6 inches.
  3. The lizards are found in scattered low plants, bushes, and rocky areas.
  4. If these lizards sense danger, they use a “freezing” mechanism i.e. they lie motionless and flattened under rocks and bushes until the threat is gone. They are also capable of separating their tail(i.e. Caudal Autonomy) if the threat is extreme.
  5. These lizards prey on smaller lizards, insects and also the young leopard lizards if it gets the opportunity.
  6. The mating season lies between May to June and around 5-6 eggs hatch in June or July.

Leopard Lizard
Leopard Lizard
  • Madrean Alligator Lizard: Desert Lizard

  1. The Madrean Alligator lizard (Elgaria kingii) is native to Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
  2. These lizards can be up to 6 inches long, with a very long and thick tail. The lizard has its base usually coloured grey or brown with dark-brown crossbars.
  3. They can be mostly found in Arizona’s valleys. Its habitat includes grasslands, semi-deserts, rocky valleys or foothills.
  4. A protective behaviour of this lizard was observed when a snake tried to swallow it. It bit and held its own tail to form a loop which would be difficult for the snake to swallow.
  5. This lizard’s diet comprises of scorpions, insects, and grasshoppers.
  6. The mating season is between September and October and up to 15 eggs are laid in the summer months.
  7. These species have a life expectancy of 15 years.
Madrean Alligator Lizard
Madrean Alligator Lizard
  • Common Five-lined Skink: Desert Lizard

  1. The Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) is one of the mostly found lizards in the eastern United States.
  2. They are about 5 to 9 inches long including the tail.
  3. The young lizards of this species have a dark brown or black body with five distinctive white or yellow stripes running all over the body. They have a bright blue tail, though with age its colour fades.
  4. These lizards are mostly found in moist areas and rocky areas.
  5. The mating season starts from May and around 15 eggs are laid from May to July.
  6. In order to escape from their prey, these lizards may detach the whole or a part of their tail.
  7. The diet comprises of small insects, spiders, smaller lizards.
  8. They have a life-span of about 6 years.


Common Five-Lined Skink

Common Five-Lined Skink

  • Frilled Neck Lizard:

  1. The Frilled Neck Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) is found in Northern Australia and New Guinea.
  2. The lizard is about 2 feet long and its name comes from the frill around its neck.
  3. It is a relatively dark-coloured lizard with a distinctive frill. When the lizard is threatened, it spreads its frill and gapes its mouth. This behaviour is also displayed during courtship and territorial protection.
  4. The lizard spends most of its time in trees and only comes to the ground to find food.
  5. The diet comprises of beetles, spiders, mice, and larvae.
  6. The mating season is between September to October and 6 to 25 eggs are laid from November to February.

Frilled Neck Lizard
Frilled Neck Lizard
  • Armadillo Girdled Lizard:

  1. The Armadillo Girdled Lizard (Ouroborus cataphractus) is found in the desert areas of the western coast of South Africa.
  2. The length of this lizard is about 3-3.5 inches.
  3. The colouration of this lizard is light to dark brown with thick scales in its back and spines along its tail.
  4. The lizard preys upon termites, small insects, spiders and sometimes plants.
  5. The lizard is found in groups of about 30 to 60 and hides under rocks.
  6. When they feel threatened, they put their tail in their mouth and rolls into a ball resembling the mammal armadillo.
  7. The female gives birth to only one or two live young and may also feed its young, which is uncommon for a lizard.
  8. In captivity, these lizards are known to survive up to 25 years.
Armadillo Girdled Lizard
Armadillo Girdled Lizard

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