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Snakes and Lizards: Squamata


Most of the squamates eat other animals. Many of the lizards and the smaller snake species eat insects or other invertebrates (in-VER-teh-brehts), which are animals without backbones. Even some of the medium-sized snakes eat invertebrates. Eastern garter snakes, for example, like to dine on earthworms. A large number of the medium- to large-sized snakes, however, eat other snakes, lizards, frogs and tadpoles, mammals and other vertebrates (VER-teh-brehts), which are animals with backbones. Boa constrictors, pythons, and other very large snakes sometimes eat calves, deer, and other big mammals. Monitor lizards, which can grow to 12 feet (3.7 meters) or longer, can also capture, kill, and eat large mammals, such as deer, monkeys, wild pigs, and even buffalo. They are also known to eat dead animals, or carrion (CARE-ee-yun), that they come across. Some species of squamates eat plants either in addition to or instead of meat. Many of the iguanas, for instance, eat flowers, fruits, and leaves.

All squamates shed their skin—actually just the outer layer—once a year. If a snake eats well and grows quickly, it may shed additional times. The lizards typically shed in small pieces, while the snakes usually shed in one piece that peels off inside out. Often, a shed snake skin still shows enough of the animal's patterns for a careful observer to identify the species that left it.


The beautiful stripes, bands, and blotches on many snakes and lizards may be helping the animal to blend into the background or to show off to predators or to mates. Most of the time, the patterns camouflage the snake or lizard by breaking up its outline and making it difficult for predators to see where the animal's body begins and ends. A striped snake, for example, may look quite noticeable on the pavement but almost disappear when placed on the many-colored forest floor where it lives. Some species, however, benefit from advertising themselves. The bright colors of numerous snakes warn potential predators to stay away, and the brilliant hues in some male lizards attract females during the mating season.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesSnakes and Lizards: Squamata - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, SQUAMATES AND PEOPLE