Squamate Fun Facts

Part of the Lizards and Snakes: Alive! exhibition.


  • Squamates are a diverse group of legged and legless lizards, including snakes. There are nearly 8,000 squamate species.
  • Squamates vary drastically in size and weight: the smallest living squamate, the Virgin Islands Dwarf Sphaerodactylus, is about 1 inch long and weighs less than one-tenth of an ounce, while the largest living squamate, the Komodo Dragon has been known to reach about 10 feet long and weigh over 350 pounds.
  • The longest-known squamate, a fossil called Mosasaurus, was about 56 feet and probably weighed about 18 tons.
  • At almost 30 feet long, the fossil of the giant Madtsoia indicates it was big enough to have eaten a horse.
  • Squamate fossils have been found on every continent, including Antarctica.

Squamate Anatomy

  • Chameleons have tongues longer than their bodies that can shoot out at an insect at speeds of up to 16 feet per second; their turreted eyes can look in two different directions at once.
  • Many geckos have a clear lower eyelid that is fused closed. They use their tongue to "wash" this "window."
  • Many squamates have a third "eye." This hole in the skull between the eyes doesn't form images, but allows light to reach an organ in the brain, probably helping the squamates respond to seasonal changes in length of day.
  • The Emerald and Amazonian Tree Boas from South America have 3-D infrared vision to better see their prey while hunting at night.
  • Many squamates have five toes on each hand and foot, while some have fewer, or none at all.
  • Because the Banded Gecko's ears are positioned below its skull, you can shine a light on one side of its head and see it on the other.
  • Snakes don't have real ears; instead, they pick up vibrations with their lower jaw to "hear."
  • Humans and giraffes have seven neck vertebrae, while many squamates have eight. Some fossil lizards have as many as nineteen, including the fossil "relatives" of Platecarpus featured in Lizards and Snakes: Alive!
  • The Common Leaf-tail Gecko has over 300 teeth, more than any other amniote-a group made up of reptiles and mammals.
  • Gabon Vipers have the longest fangs of any living snake: they can be nearly two inches tall.

Diet and Defense

  • To scare potential predators, the Western Hooknose Snake draws air into a vent at the base of its tail and blows it out causing a loud "pop."
  • Reticulated Pythons can eat a human.
  • Red Spitting Cobras can spit venom into a person's eyes from as far as six feet away.
  • The Gila Monster and the Beaded Lizard are the only two known venomous lizards; their relatives possessed venom by 80 million years ago.
  • Some squamates--like Platecarpus and the Campbell's Milksnake--have rows of long, sharp teeth on the roofs of their mouths to help swallow prey and keep it from escaping.
  • Venomous snakes do not always inject venom when they bite. These so-called "dry bites" are actually quite common.
  • Some lizards have mildly toxic green blood that deters predators with its bad taste.


  • Basilisks can run on water with the help of fringes that increase the surface area of their toes. By churning their legs to create pockets of air in the surface of the water they can seemingly defy gravity. To manage a feat like this, a 175-pound human would have to maintain a speed of 65 miles per hour.
  • Some squamates can "fly." The Paradise Tree Snake flattens its body to create a more aerodynamic shape and is able to change direction in mid-flight.
  • Some squamates can stick to glass, ceilings, and other smooth surfaces. The toes of geckos, anoles, and some skinks have toe pads with microscopic filaments that are so tiny they are able to form weak bonds with the molecules of these smooth surfaces.