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Lizards are wizards.

The hump-headed dragon shown here is one of more than 3000 species of lizards. It and all other lizards seem to be wizards at staying alive. To find out about some of their great ways of surviving, turn the page.


A lizard's world is full of danger. Hungry snakes, birds, and other predators are everywhere, ready to pounce. To escape such enemies, a lizard has to be ready to take off in a hurry and hide.

No lizard can do that better than a basilisk (BAS-uh-lisk). These lively lizards of Central and South America often stand up and run on their long hind legs. And if they're near a stream, they may run right across the surface to the other side! (See photo 1.)

The lizards' long toes help keep them from sinking. But what if they do sink before reaching land? They may dive to the bottom and hold their breath until danger is gone.

Flying geckos (2) are also great escape artists. They spend a lot of time resting on tree trunks high in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. If a snake or other predator sneaks up on a gecko, the lizard may leap into the air. Instantly, flaps of skin flare out from its sides like tiny parachutes. And its webbed feet spread wide to catch as much air as possible. The little lizard then glides to the ground or to a nearby tree--safe from whatever had frightened it.

In the hot deserts of the American Southwest lives the fringe- toed lizard. This little speedster has long toes with scales along the edges--great for getting a grip as it races across the sand.

To escape a roadrunner or any other enemy, a fringe-toed lizard zigzags as it runs. Then, suddenly, it dives headfirst into the sand. Using its strong hind feet, the lizard "swims" downward until it disappears. Later, it pokes up its head (3) to see if the enemy is gone.


When a frilled lizard is threatened by an enemy, it takes off in a flash across the Australian desert. But if it gets tired and the enemy catches up, the lizard turns to face its attacker. The lizard's large mouth opens wide, and a frill of skin around its neck pops open like an umbrella (4).

At the same time, its long tail thrashes like a whip. Instantly, a frightened lizard has become a big-headed, scary monster! If the lizard is lucky, its enemy will run off to find an easier meal.

Another big bluffer from Australia is the sand goanna (go-AHN- uh). This long, strong lizard usually can outrun its enemies. But if cornered, it rears up on its hind legs (5), hisses loudly, and whips its tail. "Goanna--make my day!" it seems to say.

Still another Australian lizard is the stump-tailed skink. When you stick out your tongue, you could be asking for trouble. But when this pudgy skink does the same, it could be saving its life. The bright colors and nasty look (6) may make a hungry predator think twice before attacking.


Some lizards do more than take off and hide or bluff and act tough. They use some amazing tricks for staying alive. The horned lizards of the American West have colors that match their surroundings. When they flatten out on the ground, they seem to disappear (7).

If a bird or a badger or even a human does grab a lizard, it may puff itself up with air and look too large and prickly to be eaten. And if this doesn't fool the enemy, the lizard has one more trick to try: It may squirt drops of blood from its eyes! (8) The bright red mess can surprise an enemy so much that it lets go. Then the lizard runs for cover as fast as its short legs can carry it.

On the grassy plains of Africa lives the prickly armadillo lizard. When in danger, this lizard usually runs and hides in a rock pile. But if surprised by an enemy out in the open, it quickly rolls up and grabs its tail in its mouth (9). If the enemy is silly enough to take a bite, it ends up with a mouthful of hard, sharp spines.

Lots of lizards can break off their tails to escape danger. And that's just what this five-lined skink of the eastern United States has done (10). The skink's broken-off tail tip twitches wildly. The bright blue color and quick motion get the enemy's attention for a moment or two. Meanwhile, the lizard slithers away and begins growing a brand-new tail.

Older skinks don't have bright blue tails and don't seem to need them. Why not? They're better at staying out of trouble than young skinks are.


Tricks are great when they work. But when they don't, a lizard's last hope may be a hard bite. A five-lined skink, for example, almost always tries to bite when captured (11). Its tiny teeth can't do much damage, but its strong jaws can give a painful pinch!

The Gila (HE-luh) monster (12) of Arizona and the beaded lizard of Mexico are the only two poisonous lizards in the world. Neither lizard has fangs, and their poison is not very deadly. Both mind their own business, quietly searching for baby birds and mice to eat.

But when bothered, they become fierce biters! They whip their heads around at an enemy and SNAP-SNAP with their powerful jaws. Most enemies jump back and go looking for less dangerous prey.

These two biters do what the runners, hiders, bluffers, and tricksters all do: They prove without a doubt that lizards are wizards!
COPYRIGHT 1995 National Wildlife Federation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bishop, Gerry
Publication:Ranger Rick
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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