Teacher Resource

Life as a Lizard Unit Glossary Words

The following keywords are used in this activity and as many as possible should be introduced to the students prior to playing the game. To study the glossary words play Key Word Fun Memory and complete the Life as a Lizard Vocabulary Worksheet and Story Assignment.


Thermoregulation: The act of controlling body temperature. For example, a lizard can raise its body temperature by going in the sun, and cool it down by going under a rock.

Ectothermic: The mode of temperature regulation in which body temperature depends primarily on absorption of heat energy from the environment. In other words, an animal obtains body heat from an outside source of energy (such as the sun). To help students understand, you can explain it in terms of how they themselves stay warm or cool down. Unlike reptiles, people are endothermic, which means they regulate temperature by metabolism and dissipation of heat (eating and sweating). Our bodies regulate from the inside, while ectothermic animals use the outside environment to regulate. You may know these concepts as "cold-blooded" and “warm-blooded”; however, these terms are out-of-date misnomers that may lead the students to a negative opinion of reptiles (“cold-blooded” may translate into “bad” in some students).  

Reptile: A group of animals that includes lizards, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, and tuataras (resemble lizards and are only found on islands off of New Zealand). Some characteristics of reptiles are: they are ectothermic, have scales, and most lay shelled eggs with a leathery casing.

Herps: The term “herps” is a slang term for "herpetofauna," which refers to reptiles and amphibians. Reptiles and amphibians are lumped together and often referred to under the shortened term "herps". A herpetologist is a scientist who studies reptiles and amphibians

Lizard: A type of reptile that generally has 4 legs, but there are many examples of lizards with no legs at all!

Habitat: An area in which an organism lives. It also supplies everything that organism needs to survive.

Microhabitat: The specific place an organism likes to live inside its larger habitat. For example, if you think of a pine forest as a habitat for snakes and lizards, then the rock that the lizard lives under and the tree that the snake lives in, are their microhabitats.

Resource Partitioning: A term that describes how different organisms have divided up resources so as to reduce direct competition. Resources can be subdivided by using different places, different parts of the same places, or by using the same space at different times (diurnal vs. nocturnal). For example, a banded gecko, a side-blotched lizard and a horned lizard might live within feet (or inches!) of each other on the same rock, but not directly compete with each other. The banded gecko is nocturnal (night active), so it will not be using the rock during the day, leaving it unoccupied for diurnal lizards (day active), like the side-blotched lizard and the horned lizard. Of the two diurnal species, the horned lizard feeds primarily on ants and the side-blotched lizard eats other small invertebrates (not ants). Therefore they can occupy the same space at the same time because they are not competing for food.

Organism: Any living thing. Example: plants, animals, bacteria

Courtship: Behaviors animals go through to find a mate.

Intraspecific: Interactions within a species. For example, one collared lizard fighting another collared lizard for a territory or breeding/mating is an intraspecific interaction.

Interspecific: Interactions between species. For example, a collared lizard eating a beetle is an interspecific interaction.

Femoral Pores: Pores containing a wax-like material, found on the underside of the thighs in certain lizards. Glands on the upper part of the legs hold scents that come out through holes, or pores, on the leg. Students may be familiar with the femur, which is a leg bone in humans. They can use this association to remember that femoral pores are found on the legs of lizards. Lizards use the femoral pores by rubbing their legs on the ground to leave a scent trail wherever they go.

Social Behavior: Communicating with behaviors and sounds (a few species vocalize).Generally this kind of “talking” is with members of your own species. One example is Collared lizards fighting over a single territory. Head-bobs and push-ups are two social behaviors that are meant to scare off competitors. There is a table describing some additional social behaviors in Section IV.

Agonistic: An aggressive or defensive social interaction (as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species.

Chemosensory: Using the sense of smell.

Secretion: Something that comes out of the body, such as a fluid that comes out of a gland.

Camouflage: Strategy that an organism uses to hide or blend in with its environment.

Autotomy: The ability of most lizards to lose their tail. This is beneficial in lizards as it aids in escaping a predator. However, it can also be detrimental because the tail is where they store fat and it takes a lot of energy to re-grow (not all lizards can lose their tail, and those that do can only grow them back when the conditions are right). 

Morphology: The physical characteristics, structure, or form of an organism. Examples include how long the tail is, are they fat or skinny, do they have overlapping scales, do they have big or little scales.

Predator: An animal that eats other animals.

Prey: An animal taken by a predator as food.

Sonoran Desert: A desert is a place where lack of water is severely limiting to living things most of the time. In other words, it is a dry place, but not necessarily a hot one (though heat is one way to make a desert dry), or an environment where water is usually scarce and its arrival almost always unpredictable. The Sonoran Desert is the geographical name given to the area that includes Southwest U.S. & Northwest Mexico in Southern Arizona, Southeast California, and North Sonora.

Terrestrial: A term used to describe organisms that live on the ground.

Fossorial: A term used to describeorganisms that live under the ground.

Arboreal: A term used to describe organisms that climb and live in trees and shrubs.

Semiaquatic: A term used to describe organisms that frequent, but do not live wholly, in water.

Saxicolous: A term used to describe organisms that live on rocks and in rock crevices. 

Basking: When a reptile lays in a warm area to increase its body temperature.

Diurnal: A term used to describe animals that are active in the daytime.

Nocturnal: A term used to describe animals that are active during the night.

Venomous: An animal that injects a toxin through fangs or a stinger, (as opposed to poisonous animals that need to be eaten or touched to be dangerous).

Return to the Life as a Lizard Unit Home Page

Learning Information

About This Page
Collection: Arizona Partners in Reptile and Amphibian Conservation, AZ PARC http://www.reptilesofaz.com/ Primary Author: Craig Ivanyi, Herpetology Curator of the Sonoran Desert Museum and AZ PARC Education Working Group Coordinator. Additional Authors and AZ PARC Education Working Group Members: Cori Dolan, Lisa Schwartz, Kat Wilson, Cristina Jones, Dave Prival, Dennis Caldwell and Taylor Edwards. Special thanks to the teachers who piloted the lessons and gave invaluable feedback: Kristen Trejos, Angela Bonine and Karen Bradley.

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Lisa Schwartz at

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