Lizards & Snakes: Alive!
Small and shy—or big and fierce? Bright as a jewel—or hardly visible? Four legs? Two legs? No legs at all? When you're talking about lizards and snakes—the squamates—the answer is usually.... Yes!
This ancient group, whose scientific name is Latin for "scaled," is more diverse than mammals, as old as dinosaurs. And they're almost everywhere: harsh desert to lush rainforest, high in the treetops, beneath the ground. Whatever the environment, one of the 8,000 squamate species on Earth calls it home. We share the planet, but we often overlook these quiet neighbors. So welcome to the world of squamates, and get ready to be surprised!
This cladogram maps evolutionary relationships among the squamates. The word squamate comes from the Latin squama, meaning scale, and scales are one thing all squamates have in common.
Sight is supreme for the iguanas and their relatives, a group of about 1,400 species that some experts call the "sight hounds" of the squamate world. Like humans, these animals rely mostly on vision, not smell, to find their dinners and their mates . . . and to figure out what other members of their species are telling them.
Geckos and girdled lizards are transitional, between the sight hounds and the nose hounds.
For some squamates, the world is alive with chemical cues. Prey, predators, mates and favorite burrows--each has a distinct chemical signature, or scent. Every animal in this exhibition can respond to these cues; all have nostrils and can smell.
At times during the past, close relatives of some of the animals on display grew to enormous size. The largest monitor on Earth today is the fierce Komodo Dragon, but it's dwarfed by these members of its family tree.
Flicking tongues. Unblinking stares. Incredible agility--but no visible arms or legs. The creatures surrounding you must be the planet's most intriguing, most misunderstood animals. They are squamates without limbs; you probably know them as snakes.
In evolution, diversity equals success. And the diversity of lizards and snakes on Earth--nearly 8,000 species--tells us the squamates are doing something right!
A hands-on section in the exhibition for younger visitors and their parents.
As Associate Dean of Science for Collections, Darrel R. Frost is responsible for overseeing the use and maintenance of the American Museum of Natural History's permanent collection of more than 30 million specimens and cultural artifacts.
The American Museum of Natural History's Department of Ichthyology and Herpetology was founded in 1909, and in 1919 Herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles) became an independent Department of Herpetology under its first curator, Mary C. Dickerson.
Did you know that squamates have a third eye? Or that the Gila Monster and the Bearded Lizard are the only two known venomous lizards? Discover more interesting facts about squamates.
Lizards & Snakes: Alive! was organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta and the San Diego Natural History Museum, with appreciation to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.
Lizards & Snakes: Alive! was made possible, in part, by a grant from The Dyson Foundation and the Amy and Larry Robbins Foundation.