The Lizards of Missouri

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

than a pinch. However, collared lizards have a larger head and strong jaws and can cause a superficial bite that may bleed slightly.

The Tail Saves the Day

A lizard can release a part or all of its tail when it is grabbed by a predator. Once the tail is broken off, the lizard quickly runs for shelter and is safe for the moment, leaving a squirming tail to confuse or distract the predator. A lizard's tail has special muscles that constrict at a break point and prevent any blood loss.

After a lizard has lost its tail, a "new" one will eventually grow back, but it will not be as colorful or elegant as the original. It may take three or four months to grow the replacement.

Eggs and Young

All Missouri lizards lay eggs. Most female lizards will lay their eggs in a burrow in loose soil, under a flat rock or in rotten logs and leave them.

Skinks (common, shiny-looking lizards) and glass lizards are different. They lay their eggs under a flat rock or inside a rotten log and stay with the eggs until they hatch. They guard their eggs from being eaten by other lizards.

The size of lizard eggs depends on the species. For example, our smallest lizard, the ground skink, lays from two to seven eggs that average under a half-inch long.

Newly hatched lizards are small and are on their own, with no help or protection from the female. Ground skink hatchlings are only 2 inches long - small enough to curl up on a dime with room to spare.

Lizards as Pets

Missouri's lizards are not recommended as pets. They have special needs, including warm temperatures (82 to 95 degrees F) and natural ultra-violet light. Pet lizards need to bask under a warm lamp so they can elevate their body temperature to over 95 degrees F.

Captive lizards also need live, natural food (crickets, grasshoppers, spiders), which is difficult to find in winter. The Conservation Department recommends Missourians observe our lizards in the wild and not take them home as pets.

Lizard Conservation

Missouri's 13 kinds of lizards require specific natural habitats and protection from unnatural predators. Many people enjoy having lizards around their homes and enjoy watching them. Landowners who are interested in helping lizards can do the following:

  • Provide brush piles and rock piles for shelter.
  • Encourage nesting by providing open, loose soil such as flower or vegetable gardens near lizard shelters.
  • Keep domestic cats from going near where lizards live. Cats are major predators in North America and lizards have no defense against them.

For more information on lizards, as well as other Missouri reptiles or amphibians, consult the Missouri Department of Conservation's book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, which can be purchased at a regional office, metro office or nature center. 

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