Why Do Lizards Flick Their Tongue?

Are you curious about why lizards do certain things?

Have you noticed your pet lizard flicking their tongue in and out?

If you have noticed this flicking tongue action, you are likely to wonder:

Why do lizards flick their tongues?

The flicking of their tongues is a method used by lizards to smell the world around them by collecting scent particles, passing them over an organ they have called a Jacobson’s Organ. While you might notice the lizard has does have nostrils, they don’t use them in the same way humans do.

For more information on lizards flicking their tongues and how they smell the world around them, keep reading.

why do lizards flick their tongues

Why Do Lizards Flick Their Tongues?

Whether you have seen a lizard flick their tongue first hand, or even in a video or on TV, you might have been curious if this action serves any purpose.

It is, in fact, a significant action in the lives of most every lizard.

The flick of the tongue allows the lizard to collect scent particles and get information from their environment.

You might think of this as “tasting” the air around them.

In humans, smell often works in conjunction with our sense of taste, but they are two different senses.

In lizards, taste and smell are interrelated, and the lines between two senses are blurred, creating one.

Even though you might see nostrils on lizards, they don’t use them as you or I do.

Instead, lizards smell by flicking their tongues out and collecting scent particles.

In the wild, this helps them tell if a predator is around or if there is a good food source nearby.

Domestic lizards you keep as pets will soon become aware of your scent and any regular household scents by flicking their tongue and gathering information.

Navigating the world around a lizard is so essential to hunt or stay out of reach of predators.

Flicking their tongues in and out gives them so much more information about what is going on around them.

How Do Lizards Smell?

As you may know, lizards are not known for their hearing abilities, even though they have ear openings to catch sound.

In fact, your sense of hearing is often better than most lizards’ ability to hear.

Without a great sense of hearing, it is harder for lizards to hear predators coming or to hunt out food.

To make up for this, they have developed an excellent sense of smell, even if they aren’t doing it the way we humans do.

As we touched on above, the lizard will flick their tongue in and out, gathering scent particles hanging in the air.

These particles are super tiny moisture particles where odors are present.

Once the lizard has these on their tongue, they pass their tongue over the roof of their mouth touching on special sensory cells.

These cells break down the information and provide the animal with clues as to what is around them.

They use this sense of smell to find food, learn if a predator is near, and even find a mate.

If you notice a forked tongue on a lizard, this tongue is doing extra duty.

A forked tongue allows the lizard to know which direction the scent is coming.

What Else Does A Lizard’s Tongue Do?

The tongue is such a vital part of a lizard’s daily life, but what else does it do for a lizard, besides helping with smell?

A lizard called the blue tongue skink uses their tongue as a measure of protection.

When these animals feel threatened, they stick their tongues out to throw off their attacker.

As their name suggests, their tongue is bright blue, and the sudden flash of color is often enough to make predators hesitate, giving the skink a chance to escape.

Other lizards, like the chameleon, use their tongue to catch their latest meals.

The chameleon’s tongue is crazy fast, with researchers finding some small species of chameleons with tongue speeds going from 0 to 60 mph in a hundredth of a second.

Understanding Other Lizards Senses

Since we discussed a lizard’s ability to smell, it is crucial to understand they gather information about their environment using their senses.

Lizards have an incredible sense of smell and, in most cases, a poor sense of hearing.

The sense of sight in some of the lizards you might research is pretty impressive.

Their vision is something these animals rely on for survival.

Unlike other reptiles, like snakes, which have an inferior sense of sight, many lizards can see various colors.

Because they do see in color, the lizards will communicate with each other using different colors.

Think about the chameleon, who often changes to different color shades depending on their mood.

If the chameleon is happy, they will be green.

Introduce one male to another, and they will change color quickly, indicating a challenge to their opponent.

Mating also brings about color changes as the males’ attempt to attract a female, and a female lets the male know she is open to his advances.

Some lizards can see ultraviolet, or UV, light, something we humans cannot see.

Chameleons have immense eyesight and because of their ability to zoom in on things.

In fact, because of their concave lenses and convex corneas in their eyes, these animals have the greatest magnification ability of all vertebrates on earth.

A lizard’s vision is a fascinating thing to study, and with so many details, it is easy to find yourself lost in the research.


Now consider yourself an expert on why lizards flick their tongues.

Flicking of the tongue might seem funny to onlookers, but for a lizard, it might quite literally be a lifesaver.

This in and out motion helps these animals gather data about their world and notify them if predators or prey are close by and if a possible mate is in the area.

Understanding the habits and characteristics of your lizard will only help you as you care for your animal.

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