Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.





Florida Nature: Lizards
Florida has several lizard species that are easy to find and interesting to watch. Amazingly many lizards can cast off their tails at will when suddenly molested or threatened. If a predator grabs a lizard by its tail, the tail will break off immediately. The place where it breaks is pre-determined by a weak point in the vertebrae. The muscles in the tail are so arranged that they will separate neatly. The detached tail continues to wiggle, giving the predator the impression that it is holding onto a fighting animal. The regenerated tail of a lizard has no bones and does not bear the stripes or markings of the original tail. Lizard tails may be regenerated again and again. For the most part lizards are insect eaters. A lizard moves forward by advancing diagonally opposite legs at the same time. This sequence causes the lizard to wiggle its body from side to side as it walks or runs! The wiggle in the lizard's walk is the forerunner of limbless motion, the undulating movement that propels snakes. It serves as a reminder that snakes evolved from lizards or lizard like animals. The sand skink is an intermediate form. This creature has limbs, but folds them out of the way and moves through sand with a snakelike motion.

lion lizard or curly-tailed lizardCurly-tailed Lizard- The curly tailed, or lion lizard as it is sometimes called is easily recognized by a long banded tail that curls over the back. This lizard has a glossy look, though its scales are rough. Lion lizards are brownish-green-gray with considerably barring and mottling. This lizard's underside is pale yellow. Full-grown males have a bulkier head than the females. Males have throat fan, but this is hardly ever seen. Curly-tailed lizards are commonly seen, even in urban areas, but usually near the beach, where they often use rocks for cover. Curly-tailed lizards bury themselves in the sand to sleep at night, but during the day they emerge to sun themselves to stimulate their metabolism before hunting insects. They lay  approximately three eggs in a batch, usually adhering to rocky surfaces. Hatchlings emerge in July, August and September. It is reported that lion lizards lay several batches of eggs during the season. Hatchlings have a bright orange throat that lasts only for the first three or four days. Lion lizards can become very tame and will learn to expect food from humans. They prefer high protein snacks such as eggs, cheese or meat. This charming lizard, found all over the Bahamas, and some West Indie Islands, has been introduced into southeast Florida. The curly-tailed lizard is particularly vulnerable to predation by housecats. This lizard got its name because it curls its tail like a lion or scorpion when approached.


Southern fence lizardSouthern Fence Lizard- The Southern Fence Lizard is a common sight in many Florida landscapes. The southern fence lizard is approximately 7 inches in length at maturity. It has a rough scaled body that is gray with black and light gray zigzag patterns along its back. Color variations occur giving rise to individuals that are gray to brown with heavy striping or little if any striping. Adult males have brilliant patches of metallic blue along the undersides of their bellies and throats, and may be very dark gray in color. During mating and territorial displays males can be seen doing pushups to show off their blue undersides. Southern fence lizards are diurnal and can be found hunting prey throughout the day. Fence lizards do not run after their prey, but rather sit and wait for it to stroll by and then pounce upon it. Their diet consists of ants, crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, centipedes, snails and beetles. Ant hills are a favorite hunting ground. If you catch this lizard by the tail, it will easily break off and continue to wiggle in your hand while the tail-less animal gets away. The tail does regenerate in time. The Southern Fence lizard's natural habitat is pine flatwoods, xeric hammocks and longleaf pine, or turkey oak. In the home landscape they can be found climbing on fences and logs, basking in the sun on rocks, and searching for food on wooden decks, garden borders, and trees. Breeding occurs in early spring. Six to ten eggs are laid in a shallow nest at the base of a clump of vegetation or rotting log. A favorite nesting sight is sawdust. Eggs begin to hatch in early June and throughout the summer months into early fall.

Florida scrub lizardFlorida Scrub Lizard- The Florida scrub lizard is about five-inches long, and grey-brown with a thick dark brown stripe running down the side of the body from the neck to the base of the tail. There are 8-10 dark, wavy bars on the back.  The scales are spiny, making the skin look rough, not smooth and shiny.   Adult males have light blue patches on the sides of the belly and a blue throat. Florida Scrub lizards can frequently be found resting on the shade of a rosemary bush or foraging in leaf litter for insects. Although primarily terrestrial, they will climb trees to avoid capture. The Florida Scrub Lizard is a "sit and wait" predator that eats ants, beetles, spiders, and other small arthropods Unlike the fence lizard, the scrub lizard displays a high degree of habitat specificity, occurring as unjointed populations in strict association with the major sand scrub ridges of Florida.  The healthiest populations of Florida Scrub lizards are found on the Mt. Dora Ridge in northern peninsular Florida, on which significant remnants of scrub habitat are preserved in the Ocala National Forest.  Populations also occur on the Lake Wales Ridge of central Florida and the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, but the status of these populations is less secure. 
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