About Lizards (and how they are different from Salamanders)
Lizards are reptiles, along with Snakes and Turtles. Salamanders, which look very similar to lizards, are amphibians, like Frogs. Reptiles and amphibians occupy different branches on the evolutionary tree. They have major differences in anatomy, reproductive habits, diet and behavior. At first sight the two can be easily confused, but if you understand the differences between these two types of animals you can easily tell which is which. Here are some major differences:
♦ Lizards have dry, scaly skin made of keratin (the same protein that makes up human hair and nails).
♦ Salamanders have moist, often slimy skin with no scales. Amphibian skin is porous allowing them to breathe through it. Some species of salamander do not have lungs, and breathe exclusively through their skin.
♦ Lizards lay amniotic eggs on dry land. Lizard eggs have tough shells that lock in moisture and protect the developing lizard inside. Salamanders lay jelly-like eggs that do not have shells. Salamanders must lay their eggs in water in order to keep them from drying out.
♦ Most lizards have external ear openings. Salamanders do not have external ear openings, rather they “hear” through ground vibrations.
♦ Most lizards have claws on their toes. Salamanders do not.
♦Lizards do not metamorphosize. They hatch into a miniature form of their adult self. Many species of salamander hatch as a gilled aquatic larva and undergo metamorphosis into adult form.
♦ Salamanders are tied to water. At some point in their life they live in water. This is usually to reproduce, or as juveniles, but many species live out their entire lives in water. Lizards drink water, but most lizards’ life cycles do not have an exclusively aquatic stage.
Lizards in New York
Lizards are usually found in warmer, drier climates than what we have in NY. Climate is the primary reason for being home to such few numbers. These cold-blooded animals have a difficult time surviving our harsh winters. What do these species do to survive? They hibernate. We have 3 native species and one European species with populations in western Long Island and parts of New York City. For all of these species, New York represents the northern-most reach of their range.
Measuring the Length of a Lizard
Since a lot of lizards have the ability to detach their tails to help escape predators, measuring the body length, including the tail, of wild specimens is unreliable. Standard practice is to measure from the tip of the snout to the vent at the base of the tail.
Lizard Books and Field Guides
New York State Lizard Species Identification Guide
Northern Coal Skink (Eumeces anthracinus)
Identifying characteristics: This small lizard has a plump body, with small limbs, external ear openings and seemingly no neck. Dark stripes run down each side of its body, from the eyes on down to its tail. This broad stripe is outlined by thinner, yellow stripes. Its jaws may become orange during the spring breeding season. It has smooth, shiny scales, and clawed toes. Juveniles have bright blue tails.
Size: Average adult length of 2.5 inches from snout to vent. Up to 7 inches including tail.
Habitat: Prefers damp wooded or rocky areas with plenty of debris, especially leaf litter, to hide within. Often found in or around rocks, which are their preferred cover.
Food: Carnivorous. Primarily insects, including spiders, crickets, millipedes, termites.
Reproduction: Breeding begins in May and females lay 8-9 eggs under rocks or within rotting logs about a month later. The females will stay and protect the clutch. Eggs hatch in about 4 weeks.
Temperament: Docile, wary.
Other Info.: When confronted, may run and hide under rocks or into a shallow stream.
Several populations in Western NY and adjacent states. New York represents the northern-most reach of this species.
Identifying characteristics: A medium-sized lizard, colored gray to brown with keeled scales that give it a dull appearance. Males have large bluish patches on the sides of their belly and throat. Females have a wavy pattern on their backs, cream-colored bellies, and an orange-ish patch at the base of their tails. Juveniles, regardless of sex, tend to look like small females.
Size: Average adult length of 3 inches long from snout to vent. Up to 7 inches including tail.
Habitat: Dry, rocky outcroppings on hillsides. Oak or mixed woodland areas. They prefer to be off the ground, spending most of their time on rocks, trees, logs or fences.
Food: Insectivores. Insects, spiders.
Reproduction: Breeding begins in spring when the lizards rise from hibernation. Males will display their blue dewlap in a territorial mating display. Two months later, females will lay 5-16 eggs in damp soil. Eggs hatch about 10 weeks later.
Temperament: Docile, wary. They will dash up a tree if threatened.
Other Info.: They are diurnal, being active both day and night depending on temperature. The males are highly territorial and will almost always bob their heads and expose their blue dewlaps when they spot another male.
Found in the southern-most portions of NY State and states to the south.
Identifying characteristics: Characterized by 5 yellow/cream colored stripes running down its head, back and tail, separated by darker, black or brown lines. Characteristic lines may fade with age, so adults may be all dark brown or black. The jaws of males may become orange during the spring breeding season. Juveniles have well-defined stripes and a bright blue tail, which may be retained in some adult females. Smooth and shiny scales. Seemingly no neck.
Size: Average adult length of 3.5 inches from snout to vent. Up to 8 inches including tail.
Habitat: Prefers damp mixed wooded areas with plenty of debris, especially rocks and leaf litter, for hiding. Usually sticks to the ground, but can climb.
Food: Carnivorous. Primarily insects, including spiders, crickets, millipedes, termites, grasshoppers and beetles. Sometimes snails, slugs and small vertebrates.
Reproduction: Breeding begins in late May. The males develop orange-ish jaws at that time. After mating, the females will deposit up to 2 dozen eggs in damp soil, under rocks, or in rotting logs. The females will remain with and protect the eggs until they hatch in late summer.
Temperament: Somewhat aggressive, but harmless.
Other Info.: They are often carriers of parasites that can infect humans.
Found in the Hudson Highlands, Taconic Ridge, Shawangunk Ridge. Plentiful in southern states.
Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis sicula)
AKA: Istanbul lizard; Ruin lizard; Italian lizard
Identifying characteristics: The Italian Wall Lizard’s color patterns tend to be highly variable. Commonly, adults are tan with bright green on the head and back and dark brown mottling. Juveniles have dull or no green, and their mottling forms a stripe that runs down the back.
Size: Average adult length of 3.5 inches from snout to vent. Up to 9.5 inches including tail.
Habitat: This Mediterranean species prefers temperate forests and shrubbery. In NY, where they are non-native, they have adapted to urban living. They can be found in open fields, parks and roadsides bordered by vegetation.
Food: Insectivores. Insects, spiders.
Temperament: Docile, wary.
Other Info.: They are diurnal, being active both day and night depending on temperature. They were introduced to Long Island from Italy around 1967 and have since spread. The Bronx, seems to be the northern extent of their range. They hibernate from November to April and may freeze to death if there is an unexpected cold snap. Although this non-native species is not an obvious nuisance at this time, it is not only illegal to release non-native species, it can be harmful to the environment and public health.
Populations in Western Long Island and parts of New York City
Status: Introduced; established; not invasive.
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