It's not uncommon to confuse the lizard with the salamander. They both have long bodies and tails with legs, but there are some distinct differences between the two, which can make it easier to identify them. Continue reading to learn more about the lizard vs the salamander.
Lizards are a group of reptiles with over 6000 species while salamanders are a group of amphibians characterized by a lizard-like appearance with 655 living species. Lizards have a scaly body with keratin scales while salamanders have moist and permeable skin. Lizards live on the ground and salamanders can be found near water.
Lizard vs Salamander - Comparison Chart
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Domain: Eukaryota
Lizards are a group of reptiles
Salamanders are a group of amphibian
All over the world except Antarctica
Mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern America
Variety of Species
Over 6000 species
About 655 species
Mostly on the ground but others may live in rocks, on trees, underground and even in water
Places near water
A few centimeters - 3 meters
A few centimeters - 2 meters
- Skin has keratin scales
- Clicking tongue to smell
- Have 4 legs. Have 5 toes per foot with claws
- Only able to regenerate tails
- Skin is thin and permeable
- Tongue to capture prey
- Have 4 legs. 4 toes on front feet and 5 toes on back feet without claws
- Able to regenerate tails, upper and lower jaw, hearts, and eyes
Feeding and Diet
- Lizards are sit-and-wait predators
- Most lizards eat insects
- Salamanders are opportunistic eaters
- Salamanders are carnivorous
Most lizards are diurnal
Salamanders are nocturnal
Distribution and Habitat
Lizards can be found throughout the world, except Antarctica. There are over 6000 lizard species in the world. Lizards live on the ground and can be found in rock clusters, trees, and underground.
Salamanders are tailed amphibians that are native to Canada. There are approximately 655 species worldwide though they are mostly found in temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern and Central America. Salamanders will always be found near water with some being fully aquatic, while others are terrestrial.
Lizards tend to be on the smaller side though they can range from a few centimeters through to 10 feet or 3 meters in length with the Komodo Dragon being the largest lizard.
Salamanders range from only a couple of centimeters to almost 2 meters in length. They can weigh up to 65 kilograms. The majority of salamander you come across will be no longer than 20 centimeters including their tail.
Lizards can live from a short 2 years, such as the Panther Chameleon to more than 15 years for the Leopard Gecko. Some geckos are long term commitments if you choose to include them in your family as a reptilian pet.
Salamanders can live considerably longer than the lizard. These amphibians can live up to 100 years in age, which is more than double the lizard’s lifespan. Mudpuppies are known to live up to 34 years, while Japanese Giant Salamanders can live up to 80 years.
Lizards have a scaly body with keratin scales that offer protection and reduce the risk of water loss. This scaly skin is what enables lizards to live in some of the harshest and driest areas in the world. The leathery and tough skin sheds as the lizard grows. Some species scales turn into spines when threatened.
Salamanders have typical amphibian skin which is thin and permeable. The skin is a respiratory membrane with glands. Salamanders also shed as they grow. These amphibians shed from the mouth and then simply walk out of their old skin. The salamander keeps its skin moist by discharging mucus, which helps fight bacteria and mold, it also reduces the risk of predators being able to catch the salamander due to its slippery skin. It has glands on the upper surface which produce repellent and toxic secretions to provide protection in the event that the salamander becomes prey.
Lizards use their tongues to smell, they lick using their tongue to catch scent particles which are placed on the roof of the mouth, when it has sensory cells.
Salamanders are famous for their fast tongues, which they use to capture prey at lightning speeds.
Legs / Toes
There are some lizards, which are legless and look more like a snake than a lizard. As for the remainder, they have four legs. They have five toes per foot with claws.
Salamanders have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet. They do not have claws.
Lizards tend to have long trunks, cylindrical shaped bodies that sit on four legs.
The salamander’s trust lends to resemble that of the lizard in a cylindrical shape.
Lizards are known for their long tails, which helps some species glide far distances. Some lizards are able to drop / break their tails as a protective measure against predators. Many can regenerate their tails.
Salamanders are known for their long tails. They are the only amphibians with tails. As a protective measure, the salamander can also drop their tails, but they can also grow it back. They are able to regenerate their tails, upper and lower jaw, hearts, and eyes.
Lizard’s senses include sight, touch, hearing, and olfaction. Certain senses may be heightened based on the species or habitat, such as monitor lizards have acute hearing and vision, while skinks spend most of their time underground relying on touch. There are some lizards that have a parietal eye, which allows them to form images and help detect predators.
Salamanders have two sensory areas that respond to the environment. Smell helps collect airborne and aquatic odors, while the other adjoining organs taste. Their sight has been adapted for night where they use trichromatic color and ultraviolet range to find prey.
Lizards need to be able to thermoregulate with ease and their respiratory system allows for this. They have a closed respiratory / circulatory system which means that blood pumps through the vessels without filling any body cavities, this helps with thermoregulation.
Different salamander species have different respiratory systems. Larval salamanders breathe through gills, for example. Lungs vary in size and structure based on the species. Coldwater aquatic species have small smooth walled lungs, while those living in warmer climates are able to dissolve oxygen with larger lungs and convoluted surfaces. Lungless salamanders don't have lungs or gills, they breathe through the skin and tissues in the mouth.
Feeding and Diet
Lizards are predatory reptiles and they tend to be sit-and-wait predators, rather than searching and being opportunistic when it comes to food. Lizards eat mostly insects with only two percent being herbivores. Marine lizards, such as the iguana forages underwater. The larger the lizard the more varied the diet, with larger species feeding on frogs, fish, birds, and small mammals. The two percent which is herbivores eat flowers, stems, leaves, and fruit with juveniles still eating mostly insects.
Salamanders are opportunistic eaters; they are also carnivorous. They don't tend to be very fussy when it comes to food and will eat crab, small mammals, aquatic insects, amphibians, and fish. Some supplement their diet with flies, spiders, earthworms, beetles, and grasshoppers. Cannibalism is not uncommon among salamanders. Food is caught by flicking out the long tongue and catching the prey. The tongue flick can take less than half a second.
Reproduction and Lifecycle
Lizards require internal fertilization. The female then deposits her eggs in a protective place, often under a rotting log or in a crevice. The clutch size is determined by the female body weight, meaning she can lay one egg to a few dozen. Eggs have a leather-like shell. There is no parental care and the female will abandon her eggs once laid. Twenty percent of lizards have a live birth
Salamanders use their sense of smell to identify a potential mate. Ninety percent of salamanders require internal fertilization. Males lay their sperm on the ground or in the water and the female collects it with her vent. In some species, males will deposit sperm over the eggs, similar to that of frogs. It's not uncommon for salamanders to migrate to breeding areas in temperate regions.
Most lizards are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. There are those that prefer the night, this includes the gecko, for example. In order to be fully active, lizards need to soak up the sunlight, regulating their body temperature.
When lizards do interact in the wild, it is usually for breeding purposes. Males tend to be exceptionally territorial, using sit-and-wait hunting strategies in their chosen area. The males defend their territories, attracting females, and protecting the female and territory from other males.
Lizards use their dewlaps and body posture to attract mates or intimidate their rivals. Mouth gaping, bright dewlaps, head bobbing and tail wagging are all ways the lizard is able to scare off rivals or predators while proving successful at attracting a mate.
Salamanders are nocturnal and can be seen during the cooler times of the day and at night. They remain cool during the day by hiding under rocks or in trees, but they head out once temperatures drop to find food. They have bright colorful skin which is effective in keeping predators away.
Lizards use a number of techniques to defend themselves when they feel threatened. If you scare a lizard, you will notice its first defense is to hide. It will scurry and hide in the first protective place. If this fails, they may hiss or detach their tail. Once the tail is detached, it continues to twitch on its own, which confuses potential predators. There are other lizards that squirt blood from their eyelids.
Salamanders are slower than lizards, they have thin skins, soft bodies and are often vulnerable to predators. But don't be fooled, salamanders have some great defense techniques which starts with a mucus coating on their skin, which makes them slimy and very hard to grab onto. The salamander has poison glands, which they face towards their predator. They can also drop their tails, sacrificing it to escape predators.
Most lizards are completely harmless to humans. Many lizard species are popular pets for beginner reptile enthusiasts, including bearded dragons, leopard geckos, iguanas, and more. Most lizards become used to their owners and are happy to be handled and play around outside their enclosure for short periods, one of the reasons why bearded dragons are so popular.
Salamanders are also very popular as pets and provide an interesting pet, but for observation purposes only. Do not handle the salamander unless their enclosure needs cleaning or you find one on the road and want to move it to safety. Salamander’s skin is absorbent, which means any chemicals or toxins on your hands can be absorbed through the skin and make your salamander ill.
Lizard vs Salamander in Conclusion
Both lizards and salamanders are proving very popular pets with reptile and amphibian enthusiasts around the world. Both provide an interesting and inquisitive pet that requires specific habitat requirements and long term care.