Reptiles are a vital part of the food web because of the types of food that they consume, which are often pests for humans. When answering the question, “what do garden lizards eat?”, it’s easier to list and look at each potential lizard closely rather than to generalize backyard lizard eating habits.
What Do Garden Lizards Eat in the United States?
Finding out what’s on the menu begins with the types of lizards you’re likely to find. There are 118 species in eight families in the United States. They include familiar lizards like geckos, chameleons, and iguanas as well as less well-known species such as ground lizards, legless lizards, and race runners.
The majority of them are located in temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions. The reason for this is that lizards, as a part of the class of reptiles, are ectotherms or cold-blooded.
That means that the animal’s temperature is a reflection of its environment. Reptiles differ from creatures like mammals that maintain a stable temperature within their bodies that isn’t affected by where they live.
Other traits of reptiles include:
- Dry skin
- Scale-covered bodies
- Inability to chew food
- Possess at least one lung
- No sweat glands
- Ability to molt their outer skin
Drilling Down to What Garden Lizards Eat
A lot of what lizards consume depends on the size of the animal, both directly and indirectly, along with its behavior and hunting or foraging style. You’ll find smaller ones like anoles, which are about 3-5 inches including its tail, to the formidable Komodo dragon at lengths of up to 10 feet.
The menu also varies with the habitat. Their diet and terrain are inexorably linked, reflecting their evolutionary history and adaptability.
Size of the Animal and Diet
Most lizards rely on predation to get food. The food varies from the ants that horned lizards prefer, to the bird eggs that Gila monsters take, and to the larger mammals that a Komodo dragon may take down as prey.
But it’s not a said-and-done deal. Iguanas, for example, can get up to 6 feet long but exist happily on a diet of plants with the occasional bug for protein.
Other animals are omnivores and will exist on both meat and plant food sources such as the Clark’s spiny lizard from the Southwest.
Habitat and Diet
Animal species survive by finding a niche that they can exploit to reduce the competition from other predators. The more diverse the environment, the more likely you’ll see a lizard concentrating on a particular food source.
You’ll also find this specialization in some lizard body traits that nature has selected over the ages to give lizards a competitive edge in their niche.
When asking, “what do garden lizards eat?”, you also have to question how they get their prey. These hunting styles are universal themes in the animal kingdom with prey-predator relationships.
Some lizards stalk their quarry, waiting to pounce or ambush an organism caught unawares. Other times, they actively hunt or forage for food. Generally, the larger their prey, the more stealth they’ll require to make the kill.
The Role of Humans in What Garden Lizards Eat
People play a part in the diet of lizards whether they are living near human dwellings or are living their lives as pets. In the former, we may influence what they eat simply because of the availability of food.
In the latter, people play a direct role in what lizards eat. You buy the mealworms, crickets, or whatever food source that the animals then consume.
People also help determine the available prey because of the plants in our gardens, which, in turn, affect what species live in the habitats that your backyard reptilian visitors prefer.
Unfortunately, the picture isn’t so rosy for all lizards.
Loss of habitat is one of the main threats that many lizard species face. Also, invasive, non-native plants encroach on their ranges, often outcompeting species they prefer to eat. In addition, lizards are facing increased predation from outdoor pets, something to keep in mind if you want to encourage lizards to visit.
What Garden Lizards Eat by Species
Next, we’ll consider what species you’re most likely to see in your yard and what they consume. You’ll find a greater variety in the Southwest versus the single species you’d see in New England. The warmer the area where you live, the greater the likelihood that you’re sharing your space with lizards.
These lizards are found throughout the Southeast. You’ll also see them sold in pet stores because they are docile and easy to handle. Some people refer to them as chameleons because of their ability to change colors for camouflage. They feed primarily on insects such as flies and crickets.
The five-lined skink is ubiquitous along the Eastern Coast, extending up even into Canada. It is the only species found in Massachusetts. It’s a smaller lizard, only reaching about 8 inches in length. You’ll find them in open forests where they can find their favorite foods that include beetles, spiders, and other insects.
Eastern Collared Lizard
The eastern collared lizard makes its home in the dry areas of the Southwest. It is a striking animal with an orangish head and turquoise body. It is fast and can run on its hind legs. These reptiles eat similar foods like the previous ones, but they will also take other smaller lizards.
If you live in the scrublands of the Southwest, you may come across the desert iguana. Unlike the previous species, these lizards are herbivores, eating the native plants of this habitat, particularly the creosote bush.
Desert Spiny Lizard
The desert spiny lizard is another common lizard of the Southwest that you may encounter if you live in Utah, Nevada, or California. It has a wide head and a black band around its neck.
The lizard has the unique ability to change colors in response to temperature to absorb more heat when necessary. It eats the caterpillars, centipedes, and small lizards of the desert.
Western Banded Gecko
The western banded gecko is a creature of the night, preferring to hunt at night for young scorpions and insects. They’ll venture close to human dwellings on summer nights, looking for food. The lizard protects itself from predators by mimicking one of its prey items, scorpions.
The prairie skink is one of the few species you’ll find in the northern part of the country and even Canada, where it is protected in some areas. Its diet consists of the insects and invertebrates that live in the open grasslands which it prefers.
Italian Wall Lizard
Its name probably tells you that the Italian wall lizard isn’t from around here. It was introduced and happily lives in the Northeast. As you may guess, the lizard prefers rocky areas but readily adapts to urban areas. It feeds primarily on spiders, beetles, and the occasional wasp.
These lizards are extremely adaptable and are extending their range rapidly westward in the country with sightings even in Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains.
These reptiles are often welcome visitors to any yard because their diet typically includes the insects, spiders, and other pests we don’t want. And while most are carnivores, others enjoy a wide range of food sources that extends to fruits, plants, and other lizards.
So, if you see one scampering around, you may wonder, “what do garden lizards eat?”. The answer is whatever they can get that’s smaller than them.