Lizards can be found on every continent across the globe except the frigid wasteland of Antarctica. They come in every size, shape, and color. Apparently, they taste good, too, because lizards have plenty of predators willing to make a meal out of them.
Lizards are low on the food chain and serve as a vital source of sustenance for many animals.
Predators such as snakes, hawks, foxes, cats, and spiders feed on lizards, but this reptile isn’t completely helpless. They have survival methods such as camouflage, venom, and other ways to fend off predators!
While many do get eaten, lizards have thrived for millions of years. Keep reading to find out how they do it, and what animals look for in a luscious lizard lunch!
How Lizards Defend Themselves
There are thousands of species of lizards across the world. They range in size from the tiny Nano Chameleon that is only about half an inch long fully grown, to the massive, frightening Komodo Dragon.
They have a variety of different defense methods from swift reflexes, to the ability to voluntarily amputate their own tails.
Don’t Have A Hissy Fit… Or Do
Many lizards will open their mouths wide and hiss loudly. For some predators, this can frighten them or at least cause them to pause for a moment. This is all the lizard needs to run away very quickly.
They Run Away!
Most lizards are very swift runners and have amazing reflexes. For being cold-blooded, they sure can move when faced with being eaten. Come to think of it, I would be too!
One lizard takes running to new heights. The Basilisk lizard—not to be confused with the monster from Harry Potter fame—can run on top of the water. It is even nicknamed the “Jesus lizard.”
The Basilisk lizard can move so fast that it stands up on its hind legs and sprints across the surface of the water. It’s like a scene straight from a cartoon, except this is real life.
(In A Lizard Voice) You Can’t See Me!
Lizards come in nearly every color on the spectrum. They can be bright and colorful like chameleons and geckos, but most try to blend in with their environment. If predators can’t see them, they can’t get eaten.
Lizards that live in the treetops are typically green, brown, or grey to blend in with the leaves or tree bark. Others like the horned lizard (formerly known as the horned toad) take on drab colors to blend in the rocky, sandy desert.
Lizards Drop Their Tails
One of the most widely known defense mechanisms of lizards is their ability to drop their tails. Not all lizards can do this, but many are able to voluntarily amputate the appendage.
Many predators like to sneak up behind their prey and attack from behind. The element of surprise often prevents injury to the predator, and it avoids those awkward face-to-face confrontations.
When an animal tries to grab certain lizards from behind they can separate its tail from the body. The tail often continues to wriggle and writhe afterward to distract the predator.
While some lizard tails get pulled off by predators, many lizards can voluntarily drop them. When they are being chased, they can sever it themselves to give them an extra chance at escape.
It’s a steep price to pay, but the lizard gets to live another day, and it can grow a new tail after a few weeks. It’s kind of a win-win situation, the lizard survives, and the predator gets a little snack. Just trying to see the silver lining here.
Take An Individualized Approach
Some lizards have individual defenses specific to their species. The horned lizard, for instance, can actually squirt blood from its eyes!
It sounds like I just made that up, but it’s a fact. They can squirt blood from the corner of their eyes up to 5 feet away. This tactic frightens or surprises most predators and gives the lizard a chance to get away.
Another lizard, the blue-tongued skink uses bright colors to scare predators. In nature, bright colors tend to mean danger, or poisonous.
This skink has a bright blue tongue that it sticks out when faced with predators. Sometimes this bluff works when predators see the bright color and leave it alone.
Other lizards such as the infamous Gila monster, the beaded lizard, and the Komodo dragon actually have venom glands. They don’t have long fangs like snakes, but they have small, serrated, needle-sharp teeth that deliver the venom.
The Big Debate About Komodos
For years scientists thought the massive Komodo dragon had bacteria-filled saliva that would cause blood poisoning, or sepsis, in animals that were bitten. Recently though, they actually found venom glands in their jaws.
When a Komodo dragon bites an animal they inject a hemotoxin that prevents blood from clotting. And yes, their saliva does contain an extraneous amount of bacteria, so whatever animal is unlucky enough to be bitten gets a double dose of danger.
Don’t Mess With Me, I’m Swole
Some lizards like to swell up and appear much larger than they actually are. Bearded dragons, frilled lizards, anoles, and more will puff themselves out to look more intimidating.
Predators don’t want to fight with their food. They just want to sit down and have a nice meal. When it appears that they might have to enter into an MMA championship fight, many predators turn around and search for more passive foods.
Would you like to face Conor McGregor before getting a table at your favorite restaurant? I’ll pass.
11 Predators That Eat Lizards
There are many more predators that eat lizards that didn’t make the list such as fish, other lizards, turtles, bats, dogs, and even humans. The predators on our list are ones that regularly feed on lizards. Without further delay, here they are in no particular order.
Cats Prey On Lizards
In this list, we include domestic, feral, and larger wildcats such as bobcats and lynxes. Either way, cats are excellent predators that feed on many types of small animals.
Cats have retractable claws that are very sharp and curved that latch onto prey and keep it from escaping. They also have strong, honed teeth made for dispatching small animals.
Feral cats will stalk and eat many small creatures such as frogs, insects, mice, birds, and lizards. House cats have the same instincts and will chase and pounce on lizards, but be aware that many lizards carry parasites in their livers.
The liver fluke often resides in lizards and this microscopic parasite can be passed to cats when they eat them.
To keep your kitten from eating lizards, try dispersing some of this Lizard Defense Spray around your general area.
If you do tend to have lizards in your yard, we have an article on the reasons they might be there, and what to do about it.
Hawks Eat Lizards
These raptors have excellent vision and can spot lizards on the ground, in trees, or in bushes. While these birds often feed on rabbits, rats, and other small mammals, they won’t pass up an easy lizard meal.
Hawks will sometimes snatch lizards out of the branches of the tree or will land on them when they are scurrying across the ground. There’s not much a lizard can do to escape a hawk.
Their best defenses are to stay hidden or scurry into a small hole somewhere the hawk can’t follow.
Mongooses Feeds On Lizards
A mongoose is a small mammal that often resembles weasels but is a different scientific classification. Mongooses are related to the popular reality TV stars, meerkats. These little celebrities usually eat insects, but they will just as soon eat lizards when they find them.
Mongooses are swift and agile little animals that eat snakes, lizards, insects, and other small animals. Mongooses are also famous for taking on and eating venomous snakes, even the extremely verstile King Cobra.
If they can take on spicy prey such as huge, venomous snakes then lizards are no problem for them at all. All a lizard can do is pray they don’t come across a mongoose.
While most predators tend to attack from behind or ambush their food, the mongoose has no such compunction. They will attack straight on with speed, attitude, and sharp teeth. They simply snatch up the lizard before it has a chance to get away and eats it.
Owls Eat Lizards
Many owls are nocturnal and feed on night-dwelling animals such as rats, mice, and rabbits. There are some owls though, that are active during the day, and these big-eyed birds feed on plenty of lizards.
The burrowing owl is one such bird. Burrowing owls are active during the day and spend much of their time on the ground. These owls are so terrestrial that they will often flatten themselves or run away when disturbed instead of flying off.
Since they spend so much time on the ground they search out food that scurries around during the daylight. They eat insects, small birds, and of course lizards.
When lizards catch the attention of burrowing owls all they can do is stay still and hope that something else catches the keen eyes of the bird. If the owl is thinking about all the ways to serve the lizard for dinner, hopefully, it can run away fast enough to see tomorrow.
Raccoons Feed On Lizards
Raccoons are omnivores that eat nearly anything they can get their little grubby, grabby hands on. They’re often found around houses and digging in the trash for our thrown-out leftovers.
When they aren’t raiding the garbage cans and being a nighttime nuisance they eat small animals. They feed on fish, frogs, insects and you guessed it, lizards.
Most lizards are pretty swift on their small scaly legs and are able to outrun raccoons. They have to be alert though because raccoons are tricky animals. These ring-tailed bandits will easily snatch up unsuspecting or slow-moving lizards and start munching on them.
If the lizard is lucky, it may be able to get away from the raccoon by dropping its tail or hissing loudly. This slight distraction may be enough for the lizard to get away, but most times the raccoon comes out on top and has a belly full of lizard.
Raccoons don’t have to worry about the liver fluke worm because the acid in their stomach dissolves the parasite.
For more information, take a peak at our guide on what raccoons typically eat!
Snakes Take Down Lizards
For an animal that doesn’t have any arms or legs, it sure is a powerful predator. You’d think that lizards could easily get away from snakes, but these slippery predators have a slew of tricks.
Snakes are masters at hiding in plain sight. They can stay completely motionless for hours and blend into their surroundings very well. Snakes use these tactics to ambush lizards and other prey.
Another weapon that snakes employ is venom. Vipers and other venomous snakes strike out at unsuspecting prey with sharp fangs, inject the venom, then leisurely track down their dinner. There’s not much a lizard can do to escape a snake strike, except hope it misses.
Constrictors also tend to use the ambush tactic to take down lizards, except they bite and hold on to their food, then wrap their body around it. As the animal struggles, the snake tightens and squeezes harder until the lizard suffocates. Once there is no more heartbeat, the snake swallows the lizard whole.
Foxes Feed On Lizards
Foxes are silent hunters that are usually active at night. They use their extraordinary sense of sight, smell, and hearing to track down their food.
When the fox finds something it will eat they pounce on it with its feet. They have semi-retractable claws, and once the prey is immobilized, the fox bites it with strong teeth.
Lizards that find themselves being tracked down by a fox will have to find a good hiding spot. Foxes can dig very well so if the lizard goes underground, it could end up getting dug out and eaten.
Alligators Feed On Lizards
Alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and caimans are reptiles, but they aren’t in the same grouping as lizards. Not that it would really matter much, lizards still eat their own sometimes.
Crocodilians, as these apex predators are classified, often eat lizards, especially before they are fully grown. Larger gators and crocs look for larger meals that will satisfy them like large fish, mammals, and waterfowl, but they will often eat monitor lizards.
These are large lizards that look similar to smaller Komodo dragons. Crocodilians have a bit of animosity toward monitor lizards though because these lizards love to eat alligator and crocodile eggs.
These large lizards raid the nests and can devour the entire clutch if they aren’t disturbed. Whenever given the chance, crocodiles and alligators will chase down and eat monitor lizards.
Can You Believe Spiders Eat Lizards?
Many lizards are insectivorous, meaning they feed mainly on insects. While spiders are arachnids and not insects, lizards don’t worry about that scientific identification. They see a bug and want to eat it.
Apparently, spiders have seen this and decided to turn the tables. While large, fearsome tarantulas can easily overpower smaller lizards, there has been a surprising discovery only a short time ago.
Jumping spiders have been observed eating lizards that are 2 to 3 times larger than they are! You’ve probably seen jumping spiders crawling around outside, or maybe inside your house. They are fuzzy, short-legged, sometimes colorful spiders that tend to hop from place to place.
Some people think they’re kinda cute!
Regal Jumping Spiders Are Off The Chain
The largest jumping spider in America is the regal jumping spider. Now before you decide to torch your house and move to Antarctica—where there are no spiders—understand that even when fully grown, these spiders are less than an inch long.
Somewhere down the line these spiders decided they weren’t satisfied eating insects, and turned to frogs and lizards. At such a small size, these spiders can’t finish off iguanas, chameleons, or other medium-sized lizards.
The lizards they can tackle are green anoles and small, juvenile, or baby lizards. The jumping spider has figured out that it can bite the lizard and then just wait for the venom to do its job. When the lizard is incapacitated, the spider tracks it down and gobbles it up.
Just in case you needed to know, both the regal jumping spider, and green anole live in the Southeastern United States, including Florida, and the Bahamas.
Water Birds Love To Eat Lizards
Wherever there are shallow, still bodies of water such as ponds, marshes, swamps, or bogs, you’ll probably see egrets, herons, and other waterfowl. These birds remain nearly motionless as they scan the water and surrounding bank.
Most of the time they dart their sharp beak into the water and snatch up fish, frogs, or small turtles. But whenever a lizard sidles up too close, the bird won’t hesitate to gulp down the little reptile.
Lizards have to be wary of their surroundings when near the water. These egrets and herons can strike with their beaks as fast as a snake. When it strikes, an unwary lizard won’t have time to mount a defense.
Vultures Will Eat Lizards
We all know that vultures help clean up “road pizza” and eat decaying animals. While carrion is their number one source of food, sometimes vultures want something a little fresher.
It must be a tough life only eating things that have gone way beyond the expiration date. I can’t blame them for occasionally wanting to eat something that isn’t rotten.
Vultures are scavengers that mainly feed on carrion and rotting carcasses, but they will take on and eat lizards and other small animals.
To keep from becoming vulture hors d’oeuvres, lizards can try to run away. If that doesn’t work the lizard may try to hiss, expand in size, or drop the tail so it can escape.
Vultures aren’t the best hunters, most of the animals they eat aren’t going anywhere. A wily lizard may be able to escape a lumbering vulture if it can get the jump on the big bird.
Leapin’ Lizards We’re Wrapping It Up!
Lizards have a rough life, what with all the predators out there waiting to devour them. Cats, hawks, mongooses, owls, raccoons, foxes, alligators, and so many more find these scaly little reptiles good eats. Lizards are also feasted on by snakes, vultures, spiders, and waterfowl such as egrets and herons.
Lizards do have a few adaptations that can help them escape the dinner plate. They can drop their tail, swell up and appear larger, they can run very quickly, or blend into their surroundings.
While many of these defense strategies don’t seem like they are great for escaping predators, they apparently work well enough because lizards have been on the planet for millions of years. Now I bet the next time you see a lizard, you’ll be giving it plenty of respect, they have a tough life.
On the same note, if you feel like there are too many lizards hanging near you, we have a list of the 8 scents that lizards hate and how to use them.
Pafilis, Panayiotis, et al. “Tail shedding in island lizards [Lacertidae, Reptilia]: decline of antipredator defenses in relaxed predation environments.” Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution 63.5 (2009): 1262-1278.
Cooper Jr, William, et al. “Lizard antipredatory behaviors preventing extraction from crevices.” Herpetologica (2000): 394-401.
Campbell, Jonathan A., William W. Lamar, and Edmund D. Brodie. The venomous reptiles of the western hemisphere. Vol. 1. No. 2. Ithaca [NY]: Comstock Pub. Associates, 2004.
Fry, Bryan G., et al. “A central role for venom in predation by Varanus komodoensis (Komodo Dragon) and the extinct giant Varanus (Megalania) priscus.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.22 (2009): 8969-8974.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
Download My Free E-Book!
Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.