What are the Different Types of Desert Lizard?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Lizards are a fascinating family of reptiles that make their homes in widely varying ecosystems around the globe. Desert lizards occupy some of the harshest regions on earth, nonetheless thriving in lands with pitiless sun and few food sources. There are many different kinds of desert lizards, each with their own special ways of surviving amid the sun and sand.

The Gila monster is a hearty breed of desert lizard, known as one of only two venomous species in the world. Occupying the vast deserts of Mexico and the western United States, the Gila grows to an impressive 2 ft (.6 m) in length and is recognizable for its brilliant mottled and banded coloring. Like many lizards, the Gila monster tends to burrow or hide during the day to avoid the worst of the sun. At night, this formidable predator hunts rodents, birds, and smaller lizards. Its venom-filled bite, though dangerous to small creatures, is not usually fatal for humans.

Across the world, the Egyptian spiny-tailed desert lizard can grow even larger than the North American Gila monster, and displays some fascinating features. Some have been known to live over 30 years, thriving in the deserts of Egypt and the Middle East. This species of spiny-tailed desert lizard is known for its mating dance, which consists of a vibrating head jiggle meant to attract mates.


Australia, a continent known for its bizarre and flourishing wildlife, provides numerous examples of unusual desert lizards. Most prominent are the many species of goanna, or monitor lizard, that roam the vast outback of this desert-filled continent. The largest species of desert lizard in Australia can grow to over 6 ft (2 m) in length, and many types of goanna possess the unique ability of being able to rear up and even run on their back legs.

Australia is also home to what may be the most striking type of desert lizard: the unusual Australian thorny devil. This small creature is so covered in spikes, it resembles a weapon. Thorny devils are only a few inches long, and rely on their spikes and camouflage abilities to protect them from predators. They have a unique hydration system, using the small channels and cracks in their body to absorb water through capillary action. This means that even scarce dew drops can be sucked into the lizard's body to provide hydration.

In Africa's Sahara desert, the spiny tailed lizard may look more dangerous than it actually is. One of the many varieties of desert lizards in this area, the spiny tailed lizard features an armored tail covered in rows of spikes and spines, probably to discourage predators from taking a bite. Unlike many lizards, the spin-tailed varieties are primarily herbivores, though some will occasionally eat insects as well.


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