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What are Night Lizards?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Night lizards are a specific kind of small lizard. There are about 23 species of this kind of lizard. They generally live in tropical areas, including Cuba, Central America, and the southwestern United States. Although the different species vary, they have a lot of fundamental characteristics in common.

Although they are called night lizards, these types of lizards are not nocturnal. They move by night and day, but generally hide in small rock crevices. These night lizards range from 1.6 to 4.7 inches (4 to 12 centimeters) in length, and are easy to miss. Because they are relatively invisible to predators at most times, scientists say a night lizard can live quite a long time on average.

The scientific name of this lizard family is xantusiidae. Within that classification are two subfamilies of night lizards, the xantusiinae and the cricosaurinae. Various species have different “micro-habitats” and are endemic to different regions. The cricosaurinae variety are the largely Cuban species.

Night lizards, as a rule, are not highly reproductive. However, populations in customary habitats seem to be thriving. Some zoos may benefit from having night lizards included in regional presentations to show how these tiny creatures survive in the desert wilderness areas that they inhabit.

Night lizard species have relatively flat bodies and heads. Their eyes have a shielded design, where the thick, durable eyelid comes down over the eye to protect it. These lizards may resemble varieties of geckos with their “granular” scales, but with larger plates on the head and other areas of the body. As a rule, these small reptiles lead pretty sedentary lives, lying in forest or desert litter, under rocks or in other crevices. When they are forest-bound, night lizards often have a lot more general cover, but the various rocks, outcroppings and other cover provided in desert habitats seem to suit many species as well.

In diet, night lizard species generally pursue insects as food. They may also eat some kinds of plants. Their omnivorous menu contributes to the ease of getting food without extensive hunting that would leave them more open to pursuit by predators. In general, some biologists would say these small lizards lead a kind of “charmed life” but not without some dangers inherent to nearly all kinds of desert animals. Night lizards are an interesting part of a desert or forest ecosystem that is built on an intricate food chain that might not always be evident without some detailed research and exploration.

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