Lizards of Wisconsin
General Biology and Behavior
Like snakes, lizards belong to the animal kingdom, phylum Chordata (animals with backbones--also known as vertebrates). They are reptiles. Wisconsin's four species of lizards represent three of the lizard families. There are the skinks (two species); the glass lizards (one species); and the whiptail lizards (one species).
Lizards are the most diverse group of reptiles. There are more than 4,600 species worldwide. (That's a lot of lizards!) They range in size from the 0.6 inch dwarf gecko discovered in 2001 on an island in the Caribbean, to the giant Komodo dragon from the Indonesian island of Komodo that can reach 10 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds.
Just like snakes, lizards are ectotherms (ek-TOE-therms). They rely on their surrounding conditions to control their body temperatures. They prefer higher temperatures than other reptiles, which is why you find so many different lizard species in deserts.
Wisconsin's four lizard species have several things in common. They all lay eggs, and the hatchlings look like tiny versions of the adults, except that the three species with legs hatch with blue tails. All four require sandy soils for burrowing and hibernating. Lizards spend at least seven months of every year in a dormant state underground. They emerge from hibernation in late April or May and re-enter hibernation in early September. Since they're only active for 4 or 5 months, they have to put on weight and successfully reproduce quickly.
With the exception of the slender glass lizard, which doesn't have legs, lizards have toenails at the tips of their digits. Salamanders, which some people mistake for lizards, don't have toenails. Lizards also have a pretty unique survival trick. They can drop their tails as a way to escape predators who grab them.
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