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Do Lizards Pretend To Be Dead? 10 Lizards That Play Dead

There is a wide range of lizard species out there, and they are among the reptiles you can keep as a pet. One of the fascinating things about lizards is that they have many tricks up their sleeves for protection.

One of these tricks used by lizards is playing dead. Although not all lizard species play dead, several lizards use this trick. Lizards can play dead for several reasons: evading predators, luring potential prey, or mating with a female.

As a beginner hobbyist, finding your lizard playing dead may be quite surprising. In this article, we will help highlight everything you need to know about lizards playing dead.

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Gospel. Read more about our knowledge control process here.

Do Lizards Play Dead?

Yes, several lizard species play dead. This phenomenon can be called thanatosis or death-feigning. This type of behavior usually ranges from several seconds to minutes based on the lizard species and the circumstance.

The major reason why lizards play dead is predation. Some lizard species play dead to catch prey that comes near them. Playing dead is known to be very efficient because some lizard predators do not feed on dead prey or lose interest when the lizard is dead.

Playing dead behavior in lizards usually ranges from several seconds to minutes based on the lizard species and the circumstances.

Do Lizards Play Dead? Southern Angle-Headed Dragon lying on its back, appearing dead
Southern Angle-Headed Dragon lying on its back, appearing dead

Lizards That Play Dead

Bearded dragon

Bearded dragons are popular and easy to care for lizards that can hold their breath for a long time. According to the stories from the internet, this usually occurs when your dragon is under some stress. 

You can try to wake your dragon by laying it on his side to see if he moves. If there is no movement, you should try to put them on their back or leave them alone in their cage for a while. If your dragon is alive, it will try to stand upright by itself. 

Bearded dragons are among the best reptiles you can keep as a pet, originating from Australia. You can easily identify beardies by the folds of skin under their chin that puff out like a beard. 

Bearded dragons have a friendly temperament and are suitable for beginner hobbyists. They can grow to about 1-2 feet long and live for 10-15 years under optimal care.

Leopard Gecko

Leopard geckos are famous lizards suitable for beginner hobbyists that can play dead and wait for the predator to retreat. They have a pattern of dark brown spots on their body, and they are nocturnal animals. Leos are very docile, and they are very easy to care for.

Leopard geckos are usually smaller than bearded dragons, as they only grow to a foot at most. They can live for around 15 years under optimal care. Leopard geckos can play dead when under stress or startled, like when spraying the tank. 

Leopard geckos usually play dead when they are stressed. According to reports online, they can play dead when you mist their enclosure. 

Southern Angle-headed Dragon

Southern angle-headed dragons are fascinating and enjoyable lizard species you can keep as a pet. You can easily identify this lizard species by its large and continuous nuchal crest with a moderately large vertebral crest.

Angle-headed dragons are among the few lizard species you can easily handle and usually adapt well to captivity. They have a snout-to-vent length of around 4.3 to 5.9 inches and a long tail around 14 inches.

Angle-headed dragons are known to play dead a lot whenever they are stressed. Furthermore, they are unsuitable for beginner hobbyists because they sulk a lot whenever a change is made to their enclosure. 

Crested Gecko

crested gecko play dead
Naturally, crested geckos eyes appear as though closed. Beginners can easily mistake them are dead.

Although many do not believe crested geckos play dead, they can sometimes act lethargic and somehow play dead. However, this is usually more common in juvenile crested geckos. Crested geckos are popularly known for their eyelashes, and spines that travel from their eyes to their tail. 

Crested geckos are known to be docile and rarely bite, and can grow to around 8 inches in length. This makes a suitable lizard for handling if you are gentle with them. However, they have webbed feet and love to climb, so you will need a tall tank to keep them.

Fence Skink

Fence skink has a silver-grey to pale brown coloration with an obvious silvery or white stripe from their eye to tail. They can grow to around 10 cm long and have a flat shape. In the wild, they are usually found in small cracks and crevices.

Fence skinks usually play dead to escape from predators or when they are stressed. 

Gila Monster

Gila monsters are among the most infamous reptile species worldwide because they are venomous. They have a characteristic black and orange scale pattern on their body. They also have a hefty body and can grow to about 21.5 inches long.

Although Gila monsters are venomous lizards, they only use their deadly bite on their prey, and their bite is rarely fatal to humans. Like most reptiles, Gila monsters usually play dead when stressed or to escape from predators.

Gila monsters usually play dead, and you can find them upside down and unmoving their cage. 

Uromastyx Lizards

Uromastyx lizards, also called Spiny-tailed Lizards, are among the lizard species that play dead. Uros are ground dwellers and usually have a solid yellow-gray coloration. Although uros usually grow to about 14-16 inches, they are known to be bulky and heavy.

Uromastyx lizards are very docile and friendly, making them a perfect pet for beginner hobbyists. Uromastyx lizards usually play dead, and you can find them upside down and unmoving their cage. 

From our interaction with some keepers, it was discovered that some uromastyx lizards do this for a belly tickle. However, many believe they play dead only as a defense mechanism against predators.

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

Although satanic leaf-tailed geckos have a terrifying name, they are not as scary as their name sounds. This gecko species originates from eastern Madagascar in the wild, and you will find them hanging out in the rainforest.

Satanic leaf-tailed geckos have a brownish coloration, and you can identify them with their tail that looks like a leaf. They are small lizard species and can grow to about 2.5 inches long.

Although they are popularly kept as pets, a unique care requirement makes this lizard species suitable for experienced hobbyists. 

Satanic leaf-tailed geckos usually play dead by flicking their tail upwards, rearing its head while opening their mouth to show an orange-red interior. 

Argentine Black and White Tegu

Not much is known about them playing dead, but they have. The Argentine Black and White Tegu can be found in South America and in the Florida wilderness. They are larger lizard species and can grow to about 4 feet long. However, beginners that can manage their size can easily care for them without issues.

They are very docile, can be handled readily, and can live for 15-20 years. 

Chinese Water Dragon

Chinese water dragons are green in color and require more advanced care requirement. They need large enclosures as they can grow to about 3 feet in size. They also need a closely regulated temperature with high humidity to stay happy and healthy.

Chinese water dragons love swimming and require a large-sized pool of water in their enclosure. This lizard species is usually friendly and loves handling if they can be socialized early. 

Although they need specific care, dedicated beginner hobbyists can care for them. Chinese water dragons usually play dead when they are stressed. According to some Chinese water dragon keepers, Chinese water dragons can flip upside down when giving them a bath. 


Chameleons are popular lizards known for their color-changing abilities, telescopic eyes, and slow movements. Although they are popularly kept as a pet, they have difficulty adjusting to life in captivity. 

Chameleons are a perfect display for reptiles for beginners due to their beautiful coloration. However, you should note that they need special care to keep them happy and safe in captivity. 

They are shy reptiles and are not aggressive to their owners but can be easily stressed by handling.

Although it’s uncommon, chameleons can play dead if they feel threatened. 

The behavior can be observed often in stump-tail chameleons, but I have seen it in Deremensis and even Merumontanus.

Savannah Monitor

Savannah monitors lizards usually grow to about 2.5 to 3 feet long. They have a docile temperament and can be easily tamed by regular handling. However, they need a large enclosure to accommodate them, and it should be well built to help prevent them from escaping.

When threatened, Savannah monitors will hiss loudly and strike the ground with their tails to ward off predators. If that doesn’t work, they will play dead.

Green Iguana

Iguanas are popular pet lizards due to their stunning appearance and herbivorous diet. They have a sharp claws, and you should know their feet during handling. 

Iguanas do play dead, especially when they are in the water. Playing dead is one of the iguanas’ defensive mechanisms to keep predators away and help them survive.

Iguanas can grow to about 5-6 feet long, and you need to provide them with a large enclosure with a pool of water to soak in. Iguanas are shy lizards, and you should ensure they acclimatize well to their environment before you start handling them.

Gidgee Skink

Gidgee Skinks are considered to be a fascinating lizard species that you can keep as a pet. They usually grow to around 7-10 inches in length. You will also need to keep them in a 40 gallons tank to keep them healthy and happy. 

Gidgee skinks are suitable for beginner hobbyists that want to keep a group of unique lizards in the same tank. However, they are known to be very fast and don’t do well with handling.

They play dead most often. Especially if you’re holding them, they’ll always do that. It is quite an active hunter, but it may play dead to confuse its attacker if threatened.

Green Basilisk

Not much is known about them playing dead, but they have. The green basilisk is also called Jesus Christ Lizard because of its ability to run over water. Although they can grow to about 3 feet long, they are known to be very light and not stocky.

They are suitable pets for beginner hobbyists that are ready to follow their specific husbandry requirements. Furthermore, they are more of a display lizard as they don’t adapt well to handling.

Armadillo Girdled Lizard

Armadillo lizard can play dead
Armadillo lizard can play dead

The Armadillo lizard is a small reptile species commonly found in parts of Southern Africa. Armadillo lizards got their name from their scales resembling armadillo skin when it curls to protect themselves from predators. Not much is known about them playing dead, but they have.

They are a unique lizard species that you can keep as a pet and can live up to 25 years in the wild.

Panamint Alligator Lizard

Alligator lizards will drop to the ground to escape predators and will also bite, defecate on an intruder, run away, and even play dead.

Panamint alligator lizards usually grow to around 3-6 inches in length from the snout to vent. They are known to have a very long tail which can be longer than their body. Furthermore, they can be quite aggressive and will bite when threatened.

Thorny Devils

Thorny devils, called the mountain devil or thorny dragon, are large lizards common throughout central and western Australia. Their spiky scales can easily identify them. 

Although thorny devils don’t play dead, they can stand completely still to get out of sight of predators. They have a fascinating adaptation technique as they can soak up water through their skin to help them survive in an extremely arid environment.

10 Fun Facts About Wild Lizards

Some lizards can detach their tails when caught by surprise

There are lizard species that can detach their tail from their body to help escape from predators. This process is known as autonomy; pet lizards can also lose their tail when stressed. However, you don’t have to worry because the lizard’s tail will grow back.

A lizard without tail
A lizard without tail

Lizards can live almost everywhere.

Lizards can be found on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Furthermore, they have many natural habitats, ranging from forests and marshes to desert areas. Due to this versatility, they can be found almost everywhere worldwide.

Some lizard species can go their entire lives without drinking water

This is one of the most debated topics within the reptile community. There are some desert-dwelling lizards that people believe can go their entire life without drinking water

However, most lizard species need fresh drinking water, especially lizards from swampy or marshy areas.

They need sunshine

Canarian lizard basking on a rock
Canarian lizard basking on a rock

Lizards are cold-blooded animals, and their body temperature can be easily changed based on their environment and surrounding temperature. This is why lizards need sunshine to survive.

However, lizards cannot withstand when the sun is at its peak and will also need shade during hotter parts of the day.

Some lizard species can live on three meals a year

The Mexican Bearded lizard, a rare lizard species, is believed to have the ability to survive on only three meals in a year. Mexican bearded lizards are carnivorous reptiles and are very efficient with food intake, so they require minimal food intake.

Lizards have a wide range of defense mechanisms.

Lizards usually have a wide range of defense mechanisms to help get away from predators. Most lizard species can run quickly to help get away from danger, while some can drop their tail in danger

Other lizard species appear larger and more frightening or have a harsh bite for protection. Some lizard species like the Komodo dragon also have venoms.

Horned lizards can squirt blood from their eyes.

This is an unusual defense mechanism that North American Horned lizards use when threatened. This process is called auto hemorrhaging, and lizards can be used repeatedly when necessary. 

Horned lizards use the blood to frighten predators and also to clean dirt and dust from their eyes occasionally.

Chameleons have odd eyes.

Chameleons Have Odd Eyes.
How amazing the eyes of chameleon lizards are

Chameleon’s eyelids are joined together once at the top and bottom. This leaves a small hole for them to see through. However, this physiology helps them to look in different directions at once.

Some lizard species don’t need to be close to water to survive

Most lizards can absorb all the water they need from their food. This is why there are lizard species that can go their entire life without drinking any water. Furthermore, in the absence of water, most lizards lose salts through their skin to help retain the water already in their body.

Wrapping Up

Lizards are popularly known for playing dead. This is why it is best to try and poke your lizard before considering that it is dead. You should also get a good look to determine if it is still breathing, such as checking behind its front legs for a pulse under the skin.

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