What is a Crocodile Lizard?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Scientifically named Shinisaurus crocodilurus, the Chinese crocodile lizard is a semi-aquatic reptile. The lizard can be found in various provinces of China, including the Hunan, Guangxi Zhuang, and Guizhou areas. The lizard is typically gray-green or brown in color, with dark black and orange to rust-colored stripes.

Male Chinese crocodile lizards can grow up to 16 inches (41 centimeters) in length, while females are smaller. Plated scales make up the lizard's head, though the scales behind their eyes are rigid. Bead-like scales cover the lizard's body from neck to tail base. These lateral scales alternate with knobbier scales.

Crocodile lizards are named after their oval osteoderms, or bony scale deposits. Four rows of these deposits, coupled with two rows of scales across the body, give the creature a crocodile-like appearance. Male lizards are more colorful than females, featuring bright orange throats and flanks. Some male lizards even have bright coloration on their heads.

During the breeding season, coloration is more vibrant. The lizard's grayish skin turns a yellowy tan color. Sometimes it may even change to light orange. Baby crocodile lizards are uniform in color, typically dark brown across the body with a lighter, tan-colored face.


The crocodile lizard prefers to live in cool forests, spending much of its life in overhanging branches around shallow water. This makes it easy for the reptiles to hunt their prey, which includes an array of insects, fish, snails, and tadpoles. Solitary creatures, crocodile lizards typically live alone, with only one lizard per small pond.

Indigenous people refer to the crocodile lizard as the lizard of great sleepiness. This is because the lizard often exits the water to take a metabolic pause, or suspension of response to stimuli. This pause often takes place for hours, during which the lizard remains completely motionless. Due to this phenomenon, Chinese herbalists have used the lizard medicinally to cure insomnia for hundreds of years.

Along with many other small reptiles, the crocodile lizard is a popular pet. Other lizards as pets include the legless lizard, skink, agama lizard, gecko, bearded lizard, anole, Mexican lizard, snake lizard, and orange lizard. To care for a pet lizard, a clean tank, heat lamp, and plenty of food and water are needed. The semi-aquatic crocodile lizard requires a habitat with plenty of soil and dry land combined with water for swimming.

Lizard food for pets can include live protein, such as insects and worms, as well as store-bought, prepackaged food. Fresh vegetables can be offered for a variety of nutrients. Adult crocodile lizards need to consume at least ten percent of their body mass weekly, while young lizards require nearly 60 percent of their body mass. Females need 40 percent of their mass when bearing eggs.


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