Often, when we picture reptiles in the wild, we usually picture an independent and solitary creature. Imagine a snake slithering across the ground, or a bearded dragon basking on a rock. There’s usually just one of these animals in the scene. However, it might surprise you to find out that just like mammals and birds, some reptiles live in family groups. But, only specific breeds of reptiles ever exhibit this behavior.
So, do any lizards live in groups?
Lizards are the most common type of reptile that live in groups. Many different lizards like Black rock skinks, Cunningham’s skinks, and marine iguanas can be found living in family units in the wild. These groups serve a biological purpose and help these reptiles to stay safe and protected.
In this article, we’ll go into detail about each type of lizard that lives in a group. First, let’s talk about what kind of reptiles or social and what that really means.
Are There Any Social Reptiles?
A social animal is simply defined as an animal that is highly interactive with other members of a species. A social animal is usually an animal that lives in a group. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of social reptiles in the world.
If we look at this definition, we’ll find plenty of reptiles that are social. Some species of turtles and tortoises live in groups. Many species of snakes, also group together, seasonally for breeding and mating purposes.
Other groups of reptiles may not stay together as a family unit indefinitely, but will offer a long period of parental care to their young, which is also unusual for reptiles! But, out of all the reptile groups, lizards are definitely the most social of them all.
Do Any Lizards Live In Groups?
There are so many different lizards that live in groups in the wild. There are valid, biological reasons why animals choose to live in large groups.
Like other animals, lizards live in groups to increase their chances of survival. In a family group, lizards can work together to hunt, protect each other from predators, and raise their hatchlings. For some species of lizards, survival would be much more difficult on their own.
Can Lizards Live In Groups In Captivity?
Just because a group of lizards lives together in the wild doesn’t mean they’ll do well together in captivity.
Captive environments are very different from the wild. In captivity, territories and borders are much smaller and tensions can rise. Colonies also aren’t able to mingle and inbreeding can be a serious problem. Housing multiple reptiles together can also lead to cannibalism and aggression. Keeping lizards together in small enclosures is almost never a good idea even if they’re a social species.
Despite this, some lizards seem to do well when paired with others in captivity. It seems like it depends on their individual personalities as much as it does on their species.
10 Lizards That Live In Groups
Finally, let’s talk about some of our most social lizards. While this list isn’t exhaustive, you’ll notice that many of the reptiles on it are skinks. That’s because skinks are especially well-known social lizards who care for their young and stay with their mates for their entire lives.
Here are some of the most interesting lizards that live in groups.
1. Black Rock Skink
Black rock skinks are a small species of lizard that is native to Australia.
About three out of four of these lizards spend most of their time in a large group. Black rock skinks are even known to live in a “nuclear “family. This means that you’ll find parents living with, and protecting their young. These lizards literally stay with their families! Most groups of these lizards had at least one adult male and one female with many juveniles.
Interestingly, you’ll also be able to find groups and black rock skinks that are made up completely of juveniles. These juveniles don’t live with their biological families but still stay close to others of their own species. Black rock skinks defend their territories against other competing lizards in the area and work together to defend their families.
2. Cunningham’s Skink
In the wild, Cunningham’s skink can be observed living in large groups.
This large Australian lizard is monogamous and mates for life. Adorably, this species stays with their young in close-knit family groups. Somehow, these skinks are able to identify other individuals that are not related to them for mating purposes.
3. Great Desert Skink
The great desert skink is a lizard that has a unique behavior that involves living in a group.
These Australian skinks have displayed a special, cooperative behavior. Great desert skinks have been observed working together to dig tunnels, take care of burrows, and basically create entire skink towns. Mating is also unique for these animals and shows how social they are.
Typically, mates are faithful to one another and usually meet with the same lizard every year. Though a small percentage of males are shown to meet with other females, they stay with their primary partners.
4. Emerald Tree Skink
Though not much is known about the wild behavior of the emerald tree skink it’s verified that they live and hunt in groups. Multiples of these small lizards have been observed, ganging up on larger prey to take them down. This tiny lizard is not often seen but can be found in Taijuan, the Philippines, and some Indo-Austrailian islands.
5. Prehensile Tailed Skink
Just like many of the other social lizards on our list today, the prehensile-tailed skink lives in large groups in the wild.
These lizards live in tight social groups and are very territorial. Amazingly, these groups are not only made up of biological families but can also be made up of adopted juveniles.
Prehensile tailed skinks may except unrelated orphans into their groups and continue to protect and raise them as their own young. Like many other skinks, prehensile-tailed skinks, have the ability to drop their tails when threatened. So, you might notice that some prehensile-tailed skinks are actually tail-less
6. Desert Night Lizard
Desert night lizards are diurnal lizards that can be found in northern Mexico and the southwestern US.
These lizards are actually named incorrectly and actually spend plenty of time out during the day basking in the sun. The desert night lizard has a very interesting social life and is one of the species that live in groups. Night lizards are viviparous meaning they give birth to live young. They only have about 1 to 3 offspring a year and may spend years raising them.
It’s typical to find a group of night lizards made up of two parents, and their offspring. Even though the hatchlings are able to feed themselves, they’ll still stay with their parents for a long time. In the winter, desert night lizards receive thermal benefits from the groups they stay in.
7. Viper Gecko
Finally, a lizard that lives in groups that isn’t a skink! Viper geckos are small, terrestrial species that live in dry and rocky terrains. In the wild, viper geckos are communal species and can be found in large social groups.
In captivity, this actually translates to the idea that viper geckos can be housed with one another. It’s typically recommended that males and females of the species be housed together, but two males shouldn’t live together for territorial reasons. Viper geckos thrive in pairs which seems to suggest that they would naturally form social groups in the wild.
8. Marine Iguana
If you haven’t already seen the full documentary above, it’s a must-watch!
In this documentary, you can see a small section dedicated to the marine iguana. You’ll notice that there are hundreds of these iguanas living together on the rocks where they bask and occasionally dive into the sea for a snack.
Technically, marine iguanas aren’t considered a social species. But, for our purposes today, we will definitely say that they live in groups. Marine iguanas are very tolerant of each other and usually stick together to stay warm during cold nights. Even during the day, when these lizards are active, they tend to bask in the sun very close to one another.
9. Green Iguana
Green iguanas are often thought of as solitary creatures, but this may just be a bias we have from keeping them in captivity.
In reality, it seems that green iguanas are actually quite social and spend time moving around in large groups. According to a study done on green iguana hatchlings, from the moment these lizards are born they stay connected in small social groups. They are born in a communal nesting site, and from there, they engage in complex social interactions.
Eventually, iguanas from different nests will get together before and after leaving the nesting area. As iguanas venture out and move around the island, they’ll usually do some in groups instead of as individuals. This research suggests that iguanas are much more social than we one spot.
10. Mourning Gecko
Based on the video above, you can see that mourning geckos love to spend time in groups.
In fact, mourning geckos are so social that it’s recommended to keep at least two of these reptiles together in captivity at all times. This may have something to do with the fact that almost all mourning geckos are female, and no males of this species exist.
Mourning geckos reproduce through a special form of reproduction called parthenogenesis. This allows female mourning geckos to effectively clone themselves and create young without a male involved.
Perhaps the lack of testosterone explains why mourning geckos can get along in such large social groups.
It’s so interesting to learn about all of the lizards that live in groups.
Living in a group can be greatly beneficial to an animal. For a smaller animal, like a lizard, a group offers protection from predators and help when hunting down larger prey. Social lizards also use groups to help raise and protect their young. Surprisingly, many lizards are also monogamous and stay in smaller family units with their mates and offspring.
As soon as I think I know everything about reptiles, they always manage to surprise me!