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Are Alligators Lizards? (No, but they are Similar)

Alligators are not lizards although they share some similarities. Both alligators and lizards are reptiles but they belong to different orders, genera, and species. 

chinese alligator
Alligators share some similarities with lizards, but they are completely separate

Lizards and alligators both belong to the Reptilia class of animals, but lizards belong to the Squamata order, whereas alligators belong to the Crocodilia order.

In this article we’ll go over some of the differences and similarities between alligators and lizards and find out why alligators are classified separately from lizards.

What are Lizards?

Lizards belong to the suborder Lacertilia. They are squamate reptiles, and there are over 4,000 species of them. Not all of them have scales. Like snakes, they live in many parts of the world except Antarctica. 

The most well-known lizards are chameleons, geckos, and the Komodo dragon. Lizards come in many sizes—some are only a few centimetres long, while others can grow up to three meters. 

Many lizard species are quadrupedal, which means they have four feet. However, there are those that are legless. These lizards that have no legs are not snakes, but a separate group of reptiles known as Worm Lizards.

Most lizards are territorial, and they fight each other to get a mate. Some use bright signals. Lizards are mainly carnivorous, and their main style of hunting is to sit and wait. They eat insects, but the big lizards eat big animals like the water buffalo.  

Although alligators are generally much larger than lizards, there are still many animals that prey on alligators, especially juveniles or eggs.

Iguana
Lizards include Iguanas, Chameleons, Geckos, and Komodo Dragons.

What are Alligators?

Alligators are large, semi-aquatic reptiles which belong to the order crocodilia. The American alligator and the caiman belong to the family Alligatoridae. The alligator, specifically, belongs to Alligatorinae, and the caimans are from the subfamily caimaninae

Alligators are powerful reptiles. They have strong tails that they use to swim, which is also a backup weapon for defense. 

Although alligators are lizard-like, one distinct characteristic that they have is their long, flat snouts. They also move differently on land—they either use the high walk or low walk. Smaller alligators are capable of galloping, making them difficult to outrun.

Broad Snouted Caiman
Alligators are large, four-legged reptiles

Related Article: Can Alligators See in the Dark?

Alligators vs Lizards: Main Differences

Here is a quick snapshot of how alligators are different from lizards. 

AlligatorsLizards
TaxonomyReptilia > Crocodilia > AlligatoridaeReptilia > Squamata > Lacertilia
Body typeLong and muscular body shape; can grow up to 14 feet or more  Long but flat body and they can grow up to 10 feet
TeethVisible large teeth Teeth are barely seen
TongueDoes not stick tongue outSticks tongue like snakes do
DietCarnivoreCarnivore
HabitatSemi-aquatic animalLand animal

Body Shape

Both alligators and lizards can grow big, but alligators are longer and stronger. Gators also have bony plates on their back, making them formidable. Lizards, on the other hand, do not have scutes and are generally smaller than alligators. 

The longest alligator that was recorded was found in Louisiana back in the 1900s. It was 19 feet, and two inches and people estimated its weight was at 2,200 pounds. On average, however, alligators are only seven feet long. 

The largest lizard in the world is the Komodo Dragon, which is also the heaviest. It is a powerful hunter that can run. It uses an extremely acute sense of smell to hunt, along with its tongue to sample the air. When lizards attack, they use their large, serrated teeth.

Related Article: Do Alligators Hibernate?

Habitat

Alligators live in freshwater. Specifically, they live in marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes. There are only two true species of alligators in the world. These are the American and Chinese alligators. 

The American alligator lives in many parts of the US, including Florida, West Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

Lizards, on the other hand, live almost anywhere except Antarctica. There are many species of lizards, so it is hard to tell where they all live. Lizards are much more well-adapted than alligators. There are lizards found in rainforests, deserts, marshes, and rocky areas. 

Lizards live on dry land, and some of them live in trees. Unlike gators, lizards are active on warm summer days. Alligators are nocturnal. 

Many lizards sleep in the winter. Alligators do something similar—they brumate. It is not unusual for alligators to stay submerged in the water during winter, with only their snout above the frozen water surface. 

A partially underwater alligator
Most lizards are terrestrial, whereas alligators are semi-aquatic

Read Also: Do Alligators Growl?

Diet

Lizards and alligators are carnivores—they can only survive with meat. Since many lizards are small, they typically feed on insects. Their typical meal consists of ants, cicadas, grasshoppers, and spiders. 

Medium to big lizards eat small mammals. The Komodo Dragon, however, eats rodents and even the water buffalo. The caiman lizard (not the alligator) eats animals that have shells like snails.

Not all lizards are carnivores. Some only eat plants. For example, the marine iguana is a lizard, but its main diet is the algae from the sea

Alligators, on the other hand, are hypercarnivores. A hypercarnivore is an animal whose diet is at least 70% meat. 

Pretty much, alligators will eat anything. They are opportunistic hunters, and they will attack any prey that they can overpower. They will also attack humans, but these cases are rare. 

Read More: Can Alligators Detect Blood?

Reproduction

Both alligators and lizards lay eggs. Generally speaking, lizards lay a clutch of four to eight eggs. However, some species can lay around  50 eggs, like the iguana. Alligators lay around 34 to 50 eggs, too. 

Both alligators and lizards reproduce sexually. It means that they seek out a mate during the mating season. Gators are seasonal breeders and will only breed once a year. 

The Komodo Dragon also reproduces once a year. If the female is ready to mate, it gives off a scent through its feces that the male could follow. This mating activity is highly similar to how snakes reproduce. 

When a male dragon finally finds the female, he licks her body, and if the female does the same, they are a pair that will eventually produce offspring.

Lizard laying eggs
Lizard eggs and alligator eggs are quite similar

Related Article: How Far North Do Alligators Live in the USA?

Summary

Lizards and alligators are both reptiles, but alligators are not lizards. Lizards share a closer relationship with snakes than with gators.

Today, there are only two true extant species of alligators. These are the American and Chinese alligators. Lizards, on the other hand, have more than 4,000 species. 

Alligators are semi-aquatic, but lizards are terrestrial—some are arboreal. Gators are strictly carnivorous, while lizards are split between carnivores and herbivores. 

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