With the exception of the legless lizards, lizards often get generically described as the four legged members of the Order Squamatareptile, which includes both snakes and lizards.
Lizard trivia often begins by defining the group’s extremes. The Komodo dragon starts that particular conversation with the note that its up to ten foot frame makes it the world’s largest lizard. In historical content, ten feet is a bit small compared to some fossils found in Queensland, Australia, which show an extinct species, Megalania prisca, that measured some twenty feet long and possibly weighed in the one thousand pound range. North American’s largest lizard, Gila Lizards, grow up to two feet in length and weigh in over the five pound mark.
Scientists usually organize the types of lizards living here into into eight lizard families, consisting of some 155 species. With the exception of Alaska, lizards inhabit a variety of areas across the United States. Their affinity for warm climates makes the Southwest prime lizard territory. Florida also hosts a large number of lizard species, many of them are non-native species.
Dietary habits vary from family to family. Most iguanas, for example, are herbivores. They consume only plant life. Spiny lizards, omnivores, consume a variety of insect and plant life.
Spiny lizards (family Phrynosomatidae)
Spiny lizards (family Phrynosomatidae), the largest native North American lizard family, consists of some forty five species divided into nine genera.
The Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), inhabits arid regions of western North America. The side blotch refers to the black spot behind the front leg of the lizard. The Uta genus was named for Utah, the state where they were first discovered.
Alligator lizards get their name from the fact that they tend to share a similar look and attitude with alligators. They can grow to ten inches or more and they will bite. It’s always good to know if considering them as a pet.
Zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) get their name from the black and white stripes on the tail, a self-defense mechanism. Active during the day, they feed on insects.
While skinks (Scincidae) rank as the world’s largest lizard family, the fifteen native skink species constitute a small portion of North American lizards (approximately 115 species). New England’s only native lizard, the Five-lined Skink or Blue-tailed Skink (Eumeces fasciatus), a wide spread woodland species, ranges from Southern Canada to Central Florida.
Juveniles, like the specimen in the picture, have dark bodies with five light stripes, along with the blue tail.
Mature males also lose their stripes and develop a red head.
Anoles (genus Anolis)
Hundreds of Anole species (members of the Anolis genus) inhabit tropical areas of the Caribbean, Central and South America. The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), the only native North American species, inhabits back yards and forests across the Southeast. The slim, lime green body makes it a relatively easy native lizard to identify.
Finding one, or a pair, in the backyard should be considered a sign of good fortune. They are considered beneficial lizards, helping keep the yard clean by hunting bugs during their usual day time outings.
Keeping the yard pesticide free helps promote an anole friendly yard.
Whiptail lizards (genus Cnemidophorus and Aspidoscelis) get named for their characteristically long tails, and they can be further identified by the stripe and spot patterns on their bodies and legs.
The Desert Grassland Whiptail (Aspidoscelis uniparens) in the top picture, for example, is identified by the six yellow stripes that run down its back and sides. The body lacks spots. It ranges through much of the Desert Southwest.
Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis) calls almost of all Texas along with some parts of Northern Mexico home. From a distance the top of the lizard looks green and the tail section looks red. A closer look reveals the spotted legs with the traditional striped body.