Happy World Lizard Day! As you enjoy the end of summer, you may be spending more time in your backyard and meeting new repitilian friends.
So let's introduce you to some of the common native and non-native lizards found in our area...
They are the only native lizard in the Southeast US that can change color. This is probably why they are commonly called chameleons, although this is not true. These anoles can change from bright green to brown or gray. Although change of color is usually due to stress or behavioral cues, it can also be due to temperature or mating displays. Males have a bright pink dewlap (the piece of the skin under the chin that extends during communication with other lizards). Like other anoles, these lizards if caught by a predator can break their tail and escape. The tail will grow back but usually remains a dark brown color. They tend to spend most of their time above the ground in trees or on the sides of buildings. They have slow deliberate movements.
Photo by Emily F, Senior Herpetology Keeper
Although not native to Florida, this species is probably more commonly seen than the green anole. They spend most of their time on the ground or on trunks of trees. Native to Cuba, these lizards have been established in Florida for around 120 years. They are always brown (cannot change color), but can have lots of variety on the pattern on their backs. Males have a red/orange dewlap.
These skinks are so named because of the bright yellow lines on their backs when they are young. This species also has an electric blue tail when they are young. Most of the time they will lose both the stripes and the blue tail as they age, although sometimes females will keep the pattern. When they are adults, they are hard to tell apart from another native lizard, the Broadhead Skink. They enjoy damp areas like leaf litter and decaying logs. They eat a variety of insects.
Photo by Bailey P, Park Ranger
Males of this species have a large head with a bright red/orange coloration. Besides glass lizards, they are the largest native species of lizard in the Southeast, sometimes reaching over 12 inches in length. Like the five-lined skink, juveniles of this species have lines on their backs and a bright blue tail. Skinks in the southeast are sometimes referred to as scorpions, and lore says they have a venomous sting, but this is completely false. Besides having strong jaws to bite and hold their prey, they are completely harmless to people.
Photo by Daniel D, Park Ranger
This species of lizard is legless, confusing some people into thinking they are snakes. However, if you look closely, you will see both eyelids and ear holes on the heads of this lizard, two things snakes do not have! Glass lizards are so named because like our other native lizards, they can break off their tail to escape a predator, which appears like the breaking of a pane of glass. They are our longest native lizard, sometimes reaching lengths of over 3 feet. Of all the above species, they are the only one we currently have on- exhibit at the zoo. We have a male and female, who have both lived at the zoo since 2009. They can be found in our Wild Florida building on-exhibit with our Southern Toads.
If you keep outdoor lights on at night on your house or patio, you may see this species of gecko hanging out trying to catch bugs! As their name implies, this species of gecko is not native to Florida and originated in the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and Northern Africa. They have large eyes, sticky toes, and are usually very light in color. They are able to vocalize, making a mouse-like squeaking sound.
Ways to protect these species and safely enjoy seeing them in your backyard:
Written by Emily Fyfe, Senior Herpetology Keeper