Lizards are one of the most unique and diverse animals on the planet. There are over 4,675 lizard species found throughout the world in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. From color-changing chameleons to massive monitors, here’s a look at 10 of the most unique lizards in the world!
10. Pink Iguana
Found only in a remote volcanic region of the Galapagos Islands, pink iguanas are one of the rarest lizards in the world. Unfortunately, they are also a critically endangered species, with only about 200 left in the wild. Scientists have been studying the pink iguana and working on conservation efforts to save this rare rosy reptile from extinction.
Pink iguanas get their brilliant coloring from a lack of pigmentation in their skin that allows their blood vessels to be visible. They are among some of the most unique and fascinating creatures in the Galapagos Islands.
Pink iguanas are believed to have originated on the island over 5 million years ago from other land iguana species. Biologists have studied these remarkable reptiles as one of the oldest examples of evolutionary diversification in the Galapagos.
9. Jackson’s Chameleon
The brightly colored and inquisitive looking Jackson’s chameleon is among the most unique chameleon species. The males have three horns atop their heads which they use to defend their territory. The females are unique in their own right by birthing live babies versus their egg-laying cousins of other chameleon species.
Once only found in forests of Kenya and Tanzania, the Jackson’s chameleon is now more widely distributed due to the exotic pet trade. Unfortunately, this is much to the detriment of local wildlife. The Jackson’s chameleon has become an invasive species in Hawaii, California, and Florida. Their ability to flourish in subtropical areas has negatively affected entire ecosystems.
8. Tokay Gecko
The brilliantly colored blue and orange tokay gecko is native to east Asia and known for its unique vocalizations. Calls of the tokay gecko include barks, croaks, and hisses. Tokay geckos are also one of the largest gecko species, reaching lengths up to 16 inches. Sadly, like many gecko species, tokay geckos have become victims of the exotic pet trade and wildlife trafficking.
Captured as pets and for rumored medicinal purposes, the number of wild tokay geckos has drastically declined. On the opposite end of the spectrum, tokay geckos have become an invasive species in several non-native countries through the illegal pet trade and accidentally ending up in cargo shipments. Some countries have begun placing protections on tokay geckos in hopes of restoring their populations, while others have banned the lizard from being sold as pets.
7. Galapagos Marine Iguana
Found only in the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos marine iguana is a fascinating species adapted to both land and sea. Biologists believe this marine iguana species evolved from land iguanas millions of years ago and adapted to process salt water and feed on algae. They are now the only sea-dwelling lizard in existence.
Galapagos marine iguanas are excellent swimmers and well adapted to staying underwater for long periods. They have specialized glands that help excrete excess saline through their nose. They are sometimes seen quite literally sneezing out salt!
When not swimming and foraging, these marine iguanas can be found along the shoreline basking in the sun to retain heat. Galapagos marine iguanas are one of the most beloved wildlife species that thousands of tourists come to these Islands every year to see!
6. Giant Leaf-Tailed Gecko
Native to the rainforests of Madagascar, the giant leaf-tailed gecko is a master of camouflage. Blending seamlessly with its environment, the giant leaf-tailed gecko moves almost undetectable through the trees as it changes colors and shapes by flattening itself. Its namesake leaf-shaped tail aids in its concealment among the vegetation.
Unfortunately, like many geckos, the giant leaf-tailed gecko faces threats from the illegal pet trade. They are very sensitive to environmental changes and don’t fare well in captivity. Many giant leaf-tailed geckos die in transport or soon after reaching their destination due to a lack of a proper environment. As with most exotic pets, these creatures are better left in their native habitat!
5. Gila Monster
Found throughout deserts in America and Mexico, Gila monsters are one of the largest and uniquely venomous species of lizard. While Gila monsters do not have fangs like other venomous animals, they have a powerful bite that injects toxins into their prey–usually small mammals or other lizards.
Gila monsters are elusive creatures, spending most of their time underground in burrows. They typically only come out to hunt or mate. They are also known to be incredibly slow-moving animals–reaching top speeds of a mere 1.5 miles per hour. Unless wildly pursued or provoked, they pose very little threat to humans.
4. Komodo Dragon
Komodo dragons are the heavyweight champions of the lizard world! Coming in at number one for both size and weight, they are the largest lizards in existence today. On average, Komodo dragons weigh about 150 pounds, but the largest Komodo dragon ever recorded weighed a whopping 365 pounds!
Komodo dragons are part of the monitor lizard family, which is carnivorous. They are skilled hunters with impeccable eyesight and sense of smell, but their most important tool is their venomous bite. They can often take down much larger prey such as deer and water buffalo.
Native to their namesake Komodo Island and a few other Indonesian Islands, Komodo dragons are one of the rarest lizards on the planet. Tourists come from all over the world to Komodo National Park to see them.
3. Frilled-Necked Lizard
With an appearance akin to something out of Jurassic Park, the frilled-neck lizard is a fascinating sight! When relaxed, the frilled-neck lizard looks like an ordinary lizard. However, when agitated, the frilled-neck lizard reveals an extensive throat pouch to appear intimidating. This defense mechanism helps them escape would-be predators.
Frill-necked lizards are found throughout the desert and grassland regions of Australia and Asia. They spend most of their time in trees, sunbathing, or catching insects. Their unique appearance has made them an appealing target for the illegal pet trade, which has been detrimental to the species. Like many exotic reptiles, frilled-neck lizards are better off in their native habitats.
2. Grand Cayman Blue Iguana
The stunning Grand Cayman blue iguana is one of the rarest lizards in the world. Found only on Grand Cayman Island, for which they were named, these bright blue iguanas were once on the brink of extinction but have made a remarkable recovery.
Conservation efforts through The Blue Iguana Recovery Program have lifted the population from a historic low of just 30 to over 1000. While they are still listed as endangered and recovery efforts are ongoing, this is considered a significant win for the species!
The Grand Cayman blue iguana can grow to be quite large, surpassing 5 feet in length and weighing over 25 pounds. They also have a longer lifespan than most other iguanas–averaging 25 to 40 years in the wild. A zoo-held Grand Cayman blue iguana lived to be 69 years old and currently holds the world record for the longest lived lizard species!
1. Thorny Devil
Native to the deserts and grasslands of Australia, the thorny devil is one of the most unusual, albeit fascinating, lizards on the planet! With spikes from head to toe and a menacing walk, the thorny devil certainly looks scary, but this pint-sized predator only preys on ants. Thorny devils can eat thousands of ants per day while they traverse the desert keeping a watchful eye for predators and continuing their threatening display.
In addition to their spikes, thorny devils have a secondary false “head” to ward off predators. They also walk chaotically with their tails up in a threatening position like a scorpion. These adaptations serve the thorny devil well as they scour open lands and face threats from birds in the sky and predatory animals on the ground.