All About Lizards
Explore the diversity of various lizards and learn how they can thrive in their habitats.
- Target Age: 5-8
- Learning Goals: analysis, observation, conducting an experiment
- Related Episode: Episode 104: Flight of the Draco
Lizards represent a large group of reptiles with thousands of different species. Each lizard has characteristics that help it live and thrive in it’s particular environment. These activities will enable your child to explore the diversity of lizards in terms of characteristics, behavior, habitat and help them to identify the special characteristics of lizards that help lizards thrive in their habitat.
Grip Like a Gecko
In 2002 the great mystery of how gecko’s can climb smooth walls and ceilings was finally uncovered. Scientists found that geckos use electrostatic forces in order to keep a firm grip when climbing on smooth walls and across ceilings. Each gecko toe has tiny hairs that branch out into hundreds of tiny endings. Each branch of the hair (also called setae) attach to the surface by a weak electrostatic attraction. A tokay gecko has 6.5 million setae that each branch into hundreds of ends—together these create enough electrostatic attraction to support the weight of two human adults! Gecko toes can detach in milliseconds, and don’t have any residue.
One of the best ways to explore electrostatic attraction is the balloon test.
- 1 balloon
- A flat surface (wall, sheet of plywood)
- A stop watch
- A table to record results (be sure to have columns for Time charged, Time held, and Surface)
- Have your child blow up the balloon and tie it off.
- Your child should rub the balloon on their hair for 10 seconds to start (mark this time in the Time charged column)
- Have your child move to the wall (or flat surface) immediately after and try to suspend their balloon gently on the wall (place it gently against the wall).
- Measure the length of time the balloon stays suspended against the wall.
- Continue the experiment varying the amount of time the balloons are charged by rubbing against the head.
- Another option is to vary the surface to which the balloon is suspended. Try incorporating glass, a wall, a blackboard, a flat piece of wood. Encourage your child to seek out other options for the experiment and be sure to record all the results.
At the end discuss the results of the experiment.
- What variables resulted in the longest suspension of a balloon?
- Did the charge time make a different in the suspension time of the balloon?
- Did different surfaces make a difference in how well the balloon suspended?
Drink LIke a Thorny Devil
Thorny devils live in an environment with very little water! They need to take advantage of all the water they can—like rain water, standing water, soil moisture, and dew. They do this by taking advantage of the grooves on their skin which channel water to their mouthes through capillary action! In this way rain water and dew that falls on their back is collected and channeled towards their mouths. Your child can investigate capillary action through a simple experiment.
- A sheet of paper towel
- 2 clear drinking glasses
- 1000 ml of colored water (food coloring)
- Have your child twist the paper towel until it is a tight long rope.
- Pour the colored water (¾ cup) into one of the 2 glasses for each group.
- Place one end of the paper towel in the water and the other end in the empty glass.
- Encourage your child to verbalize their observe what happens and record their findings.
You and your child should see their paper towel starting to get wet, and because the water is colored, you can observe it moving up the paper towel. After a few minutes you will see that some water has started to pool in the glass that was empty! This process is called ‘capillary action,’ the water uses this process to move along the tiny gaps in the fibre of the paper towels. This is the same process that can be seen in plants as water moves through the stem.
Blend Like a Chameleon
Chameleons have an amazing ability to blend into their environment by changing their color. This ability comes from special cells in their skin called chromatophores that are filled with different kinds of pigment. These cells work together to help the chameleon blend in with it’s environment so perfectly it is easily hidden!
You and your child can experience the effects of camouflage first hand with a simple experiment.
- 3 large sheets of colored paper (2 of the same color and 1 very different color) marked off into a grid of 2 inch by 2 inch squares (Be sure to leave one of the duplicated color sheets intact.)
- 1 sheet of black and white patterned paper marked off into a grid of 2 inch by 2 inch squares.
- A stop watch
- A sheet of paper and a pencil to record results
- Have your child cut out the squares according to the pattern on three of the colored sheets and the black and white patterned sheet. Have them mix up the squares.
- Have your child close their eyes while you place the squares in a mixed pattern on the large colored sheet. Now there will be one set of squares that matches the background, and 2 sets of squares that do not match.
- Once the squares are placed, instruct your child to open their eyes and try to pick up as many of the colored squares as you can in 5 seconds.
- Record how many squares were picked up in the 5 seconds and their colors. Repeat the experiment (switching your child’s role between observer and picker) and at the end calculate which squares were picked the most.
- Discuss why your child thinks the experiment yielded this result.
Our eyes quickly notice sharp contrasts in color, so the student picking up the squares will usually pick out squares that are not the same color as the sheet they are lying on. When animals like the chameleon use camouflage, they are taking advantage of the fact that when their colors match those around them, predators don’t see a contrast and these animals remain hidden.
Glide Like a Drako
The draco lizard is able to glide from tree to tree using special ‘wings’ that evolved out of it’s ribs. These ‘wings’ are pieces of skin and rib that can be spread out on each side. As the draco takes off from it’s perch, it spreads out the wings and uses them to glide to another tree sometimes up to 200 feet away!
Your child can explore the science of gliding with a simple paper airplane experiment.
- Recycled copy paper to make planes
- A long tape measure
- A piece of paper and pencil to record results
- Be sure to make space in the room you are in.
- Lay out the measuring tape.
- Try making different types of paper airplanes with your child. Encourage them to experiment with known designs and to invent their own! You can download instructions to different styles of paper airplanes here.
- Number each plane and make a list of the numbers so your child can keep track of how well each plane glided.
- You and your child can turns gliding the planes and recording how far they flew using the tape measure. If child experiments with modifying the planes as they go, make sure they record the modifications and the results so they can look back and compare the changed design to the original.
- At the end look at the design of the winning plane and the losing plane. Which plane stayed in the air for the shortest time and why? Ask your child why they think the winning plane to stay stayed in the air for such a long time and was able to glide as far as it did.
Take It Further
Lizards up Close!
Visit a local herpetology pet store that specializes in lizards. Call the store before hand to see if your child could handle some of the lizards (in the presence of an expert) so they can see close up some of the features they explored earlier. Be sure to bring a camera or a pen and paper to record the names and pictures of the lizards you encounter.
If a pet store is not available, try your local zoo or museum. They may have an education section where your child can interact with different lizards. Inquire about the possibility of a behind the scenes visit to see the lizards. Even if neither option is available, visiting the lizards at a zoo or museum is still rewarding. Be sure to bring a camera and/or notepad and pen for your child to record details about the lizards that they see on display.
More Ways to Discover and Learn
Go on an Adventure!
Go on a lizard walk! Many areas have local species of lizards that prefer different habitats. You can search online for a list of species that occur in your local area and where you might find them. Be sure to print out pictures so that if you and your child do see lizards you can try to identify them. Find a local park or nature walk that is well known and safe and be sure keep alert for lizards during the walk. If you do see one, have them record the date, time, and specific location of the sighting (on a tree, in the grass, near water). This can give clues to the species identification as well. If you are unsure of where to find lizards in your area, local herpetology groups, herpetology researchers at the local university and even some pet stores that specialize in lizards can be great sources of information on where to spot some local lizards!
Lizards in the news. Encourage your child to the web and compile articles on recent discoveries of new lizard species. Your child can create a New Lizard guidebook by creating entry pages for the new species they read about online. Be sure to include the following information on each page: common name, scientific name, habitat, diet, size, behavior and the name of the person who discovered the new species. Your child can fill in as much information as is available. If there is some information that is missing, your child can periodically update their New Lizard guidebook by searching for updates on the recently discovered species and by adding in the new species discovered since the last update!
Squamate: The largest recent order of reptiles which includes lizards and snakes. Animals in this order are distinguished by their skin which has scales or shields.
Look in a Book
- Your child may enjoy learning about lizards from these books:
- Fun Facts About Lizards by Carmen Bredson. Enslow Publishers, 2009.
- All About Lizards by Jim Arnosky. Scholastic, 2004.
- Those Lively Lizards by Marta Magellan. Pineapple Pr, 2008.