What Do Lizards Do In The Winter? Do They Hibernate

Snow is on the ground, and temperatures are dropping–winter is here.

But you’ve got a pet lizard, and you’re wondering, what do lizards do in the winter?

Can I take my scaly friend outside to experience snow?

The answer is a resounding NO!

Key Takeaway:

Lizards hibernate during the winter season. They hide in tree trunks, under rocks, and anywhere else they can stay somewhat sheltered from the weather.

But what temperature is too cold for lizards? How do they survive winter if they can’t deal with cold weather?

In this article, we’ll look at what lizards do in cold temperatures, how they survive, and which lizards have weird weather habits.

Let’s dive right in!

lizard on snow

What Do Lizards Do In The Winter?

What lizards do in the winter depends on what type of lizard species they are.

Most lizards are ectothermic, meaning cold-blooded, so they cannot warm themselves internally, as mammals do. Instead, they have to rely on external heating sources.

When winter comes, they are forced into hibernation. Lizards generally hibernate alone, but some species have been observed in group hibernation. The need for food is greatly diminished or even eliminated in some species during hibernation.

Depending on whether they are native to a cold-weather climate or a warm climate, lizards may even hibernate in the summer months to escape the hot summer sun.

But where do they go when they hibernate?

Where Do Lizards Hibernate?

Conserving energy during the cold winter months is a must for wild lizards. Their cold tolerance is virtually zero. This means preparing for the winter is important to their overall health.

To do so, lizards find the best place to hunker down, such as under logs and rocks, or they may even burrow into the ground. They aim to find the warmest place to wait out the cold temperatures.

To reduce energy demands, lizards will become inactive and reduce environmental stressors as much as possible so that what little fat reserves they do have, aren’t quickly tapped.

As temperatures rise and spring comes back around, most lizards break free of their dormant state and thrive, thanks to all the food the new season offers.

Here are a few other things that lizards do in the winter to survive.

Migration

When the temperature drops, some lizards migrate to survive. Think of it like taking a winter vacation to warmer climates to stay warm. For lizards, this means moving further south when the weather gets bad. Over a few weeks to months, they’ll hide out and bask in tropical weather, then slowly return to their previous habitat.

Thermoregulation

Thermoregulation drives lizards to hibernate. This process motivates cold-blooded reptiles and lizards to find warm spots to heat their body temperature. That’s why tree trunks and rocks are so popular with these animals. Finding a warm place to spend the winter doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Aestivation

Aestivation happens in the warmer months and decreases the metabolism until the surrounding conditions improve. Lizards will look for shaded and moist areas to hide out during this process. Harsh weather cycles keep lizards dormant, but once more stable temperatures return, lizards come out of this state and resume normal activities.

Behavior

Another way lizards survive the cold is through behavior changes. By preparing for winter and eating as much as possible, lizards improve their odds of surviving through the cold winter months. Here again, lizards slow down their metabolic rate, become less active, and even lose color in their skin as they hibernate. Eventually, you can find them in the same spot for days on end as temperatures remain cold.

Hide

Another reason why lizards are not seen in winter is they simply like to hide. Lizards will seek out safe spots to reduce their chances of becoming dinner for another predator while staying warm. This is especially true if winter has been unseasonably warm. It isn’t until the temperature outdoors drops to 7 degrees Celsius that their bodies begin to slow down and prepare for hibernation. Once it does, you’ll find them hiding out in fallen trees or near buildings and soft soil to stay warm.

lizard hiding on snow

What Temperature is Too Cold For Lizards?

By now, you have a better idea of what happens to lizards in the winter, but when does winter become ‘winter’ to a lizard? The answer to that lies in the temperature at which lizards begin to feel too cold. Research shows that at around 42 degrees Fahrenheit (5.56 °C), lizards are too cold to be active if that temperature is sustained for at least two weeks.

What Happens If A Lizard Gets Too Cold?

Some lizard owners wonder what happens if their pet becomes too cold. Their metabolism will slow down, causing the animal to be sluggish and less active. Their body temperature is directly related to their health and behavior, which means if your lizard gets too cold, they are susceptible to respiratory illnesses and other problems.

Also, your lizard may have trouble digesting their food if they become too cold. This leads to malnutrition and even starvation if it persists. Some lizards even face organ failure, which is typically fatal.

Because lizards are ectothermic, they cannot handle cold temperatures or regulate their body temperature. Warm, sunny environments help them survive and absorb nutrients properly, and are preferable to lizards.

Which Lizards Stay Active In Freezing Temperatures?

Despite what you may have heard, some species of lizards are cold-tolerant. For example, the alligator lizard, Mediterranean house gecko, and collared lizard all stay active during colder temperatures. These lizards live in microhabitats where temperatures stay above freezing during the winter.

These lizards will find deep crevices and tunnels that trap warmer air, keep cold air out, and make these spots their temporary homes. They will remain active until the temperature reaches 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.11 °C) for brief periods and then begin to hibernate.

Do Lizards Hibernate in the Summer?

Did you know that even in the summer, lizards can slow down? On super hot days, lizards may hide in burrows or the shade provided by rocks. When the temperature starts to drop, they’ll come back out to hunt.

Typically, in temperatures of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 18 °C), lizards will feed. When temperatures go above 90 degrees, they’ll lie low and stay cool until the warmest part of the day has passed.

group of lizards

Are Lizards Cold-Blooded Animals?

Yes! Virtually all reptiles are cold-blooded, including lizards. They also lay eggs and have dry, scaly skin. All lizards, from the green anole to the common lizard, have a preferred optimum temperature range or POTR where they operate at their best. Whether they are in their POTR or not affects all areas of their lives, from their immune system to their appetite.

So, if your lizard seems lethargic, it could be because they need a more appropriate heat source to stay warm and healthy.

How To Warm Up Freezing Lizard

For pet lizards, it’s important to keep a warm temperature all year long. If your pet lizard becomes too cold for any reason, however, you can warm them up and prevent them from dying from being too cold.

First, grab a heat source. This can be a heat lamp or a heating pad.

Next, ensure the environment is properly ventilated, and a thermometer closely monitors the temperature. Use the heat sources to warm up the temperature in the enclosure gradually.

Once the temperature is appropriate for your lizard, approximately 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 29 °C), you can place your lizard back into its home to acclimate to the temperature.

This simple process can help save your lizard’s life if they, for some reason, find themselves outside in a freezing environment.

It’s also important to provide your pet lizard with a basking place inside their enclosure to keep them warm. Their basking area should be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 38 °C) for the best results.

What Lizards Fall to The Ground in Cold Temperatures?

Yes, there is a species of lizards that fall from the sky when temperatures get too cold. That species is the iguana!

Just like other lizards, iguanas are cold-blooded, meaning they aren’t fond of super cold temperatures. These reptiles live in southern Florida, where temperatures rarely get colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 10 °C).

However, if the area goes through a cold snap, it directly affects them. When temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, iguanas undergo a kind of temporary cold shock that makes it impossible for them to move their limbs.

Instead of dying, however, they simply fall over. And since iguanas climb trees, they will drop from the sky to the ground if the temperatures get that cold.

So, if you live in Florida during a cold snap, don’t be shocked if a lizard falls to the ground next to you!

Keep Your Lizard Warm All Year Long

Since lizards are cold-blooded, pet owners must ensure their enclosure is properly heated. Regardless of what type of lizard you may own, use all the right equipment to keep them warm, happy, and healthy!

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