JUN 14, 2016 9:48 AM PDT

The dancing lizard


The shovel-snouted lizard is one of the fastest lizards on the planet, able to move 3 feet within 1 second, the equivalent of 20 times its body length.

Its speed is one of its many adaptations to living in harsh desert habitats. Running so fast keeps the animal from sinking into the blistering hot sand. The lizard sports long hind legs with powerful thigh muscles that drive its body forward, propelled by large back feet that function as paddles. Its back leg tendons act as springs that give the lizard the energy and speed to hunt insects that provide it with nourishment and hydration.

However, the most unique adaptation that this lizard has is perhaps its disco-style dance moves. Because of the extreme surface heat of desert sand can reach 160 degrees F, the reptile must be very conscious of not allowing its body temperature to reach too high. To control this, the lizard alternates lifting its legs off the surface of the sand, for just enough time as to cool off two legs and not burn the other two.

However, sometimes this technique is not enough. Occasionally the lizard must burrow its way deep into the sand, where temperatures can be as much as 50 degrees cooler. There the lizard takes advantage of the air between sand particles to breathe, where it can remain buried for 24 hours.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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