Can Lizards Swim

Can Lizards Swim? Can they Drown?

Could be you have come across lizards in a pond, river, sea, ocean, or stagnant water at your home and wonder how they move about. How do they cross water bodies? So, can lizard Swim? 

The direct answer is, YES! Lizards can swim in water bodies including rivers, seas, oceans, or pods. These reptiles use their tail to propel themselves forward when swimming plus use front limbs for vertical movement.

Some lizards like Gecko can even walk on water. Lizard, they’re vertebrates, such as Marine Iguanas can swim in deep seas or oceans down to the floor in search of food while holding their breath for 45 minutes. 

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Details: Can Lizards Swim? Can they Drown? Movement

Lizards can swim. The swimming capability varies from one species to another and is determined by body size, shape and length of the tail. Some lizard species such as Gecko and skinks can walk or run on the water bodies.

Marine Iguana lizards are known to swim in deep waters and can hold its breath for over 45 minutes while feeding on its prey at the floor of sea or ocean. Lizard such as sandfish or saharan lizard can swim even on sand instead of walking.

1. Mechanisms used by Lizards to Swim.

Before getting into the water bodies, lizards take in a deep breath, which will sustain them while under the water. Then, the lizards walk into the water where they float since their large bellies offer suitable swimming buoyancy.

The Lizard, then, swings its tail sideways to propel it forward – tail is the main organ that is used mostly by lizard when swimming. The sideways movement of lizard’s tail is carried out intermittently and slowly unless the lizard detects danger (it flips tail fast to accelerate its escape motion).

Lizards use their legs to maintain themselves in a horizontal position. The front limbs will also be useful when lizards are changing their direction as they act as steering.

To dive downwards, the lizard pitches its head at a downward angle and locks the hind legs close to its body. Then, it uses its tail to propel itself downward. During the movement, the lizard holds its breath.

The Lizard is able to move vertically upward while using the font legs/limbs, which acts as flippers. The dorsal protrusion found at the back of the lizards help them from rolling sideways while swimming. They also acts as breakers for the sea/ocean current which may alter lizard’s movement.

The Iguana, Bearded dragon, Komodo dragon and Asian water monitor lizards are known to swim deep in the sea or ocean waters in search of food. Once the lizard gets its tail detached, it may not be possible to swim well and may get drowned in most cases.

Related: Do Lizards Have Bones?

2. Distance that Lizard can swim.

Medium size Lizards can swim on the surface of water for 1 to 16 feet nonstop. They can also dive down up to 2 to 8 feet in search of prey.

Large Lizards such as Iguanas, Bearded dragon, Asian water monitor and Komodo dragon can swim more than 16 feet. In fact, Komodo lizard is known to swim 13 kilometers per hour. The Iguanas, Bearded Dragon and Komodo dragons are known to swim from one Island to another.

Most Lizard species prefer swimming on the surface since they are able to shoot their head up to blow and take in fresh air. The lizards tend to swim along the shoreline and won’t get far into the sea or ocean lest they drown out of insufficient air since they can’t breathe under water.

Marine Iguanas are able to swim down to ocean beds/floors in search of food. In addition, the marine Iguanas are well adapted to salty waters – they often blow off to remove salts from nasal cavities.

3. Challenges faced by Lizards while swimming.

Drowning is major problem that face lizards while swimming. Though they can hold their breath longer (1 to 48 minutes) than other animals (human beings, birds), lizards get drowned when the air withheld replenishes.

Lizards that are used to flesh waters such as Nile monitor lizards will easily drown in case they find themselves in large water mass such as Mediterranean Sea. Salty water environment makes the breathing activity of lizards difficult.

The salt particles block the nasal cavities and lizard’s breathing system causing them to drown or get fatigued faster. Though some lizards such as Marine Iguanas, Bearded Dragon and Komodo Dragons are adapted to swimming deep in salty sea and ocean waters.

However, most species of flesh water lizards are unable to fit in those environments. Small size lizards are easily carried by sea and ocean current. They lack efficient braking mechanism and may be taken far into the water bodies where they get drowned.

Lizards that prefer to walk on water (gecko) are easily swept away by the water waves and eventually get drowned or fed by the prey.

4. Adaptation of Lizards to swimming.

The following are adaptation of lizards to swimming. Lizards have web skin between their toes, which help them to float easily while swimming.

  1. The belly of lizard is flat and wide – this makes it float easily on water and thus increasing buoyancy while swimming.
  2. Lizards have long tail, which help in forward propulsion.
  3. The front limbs of lizards have wide and flat-bottomed toes, which help navigation.
  4. The dorsal/back of the lizards protrude upwards slightly from the head to tail. This prevent lizards from rolling due to water current – acts as side breaks.
  5. The lower part of the mouth of the lizards is large and act as reservoir for air when they are under the water.

Related: Do Lizards Have Teeth?

Can Baby Lizard Swim?

Baby lizard can swim. Once hatched, the baby lizards have similar features as the adult lizards – only that they are not fully grown and adapted to full functionality.

The baby lizards swim in shallow water where heavy currents cannot drift them away. Their tail and dorsal protrusions are not fully developed to swimming and thus can easily be drowned.

The adult lizards help the baby lizards on how to swim by carrying them slight on their back. The Young lizard will then develop the art of flipping the legs and swaying of the tail slowly to being an expert with time.

Normally, a baby lizard can swim for 1 to 7 minutes before getting exhausted. It can move a distance of 1 to 10 feet on the surface. The baby lizards rarely swim under the water since they have not developed fully the art of withholding air while swimming.

Most of baby lizards that swim under water usually get drowned. In case you want to train your baby lizard pet on how to swim, you must ensure that you provide an underneath water protection.

You can make it step on a mesh table, which can allow water to pass and then tag it along as the baby lizard swim. This will make it easier to rescue your baby lizard pet in case it tend to drown.

You can also train your baby lizard to swim by holding it at chest region over the water and releasing it intermittently to make it swim. You can do so this at home using the basin water or the slow-running stream.

How Long Can Lizard Hold Breathe Under Water?

Normally, lizards do not breathe under water. They hold their breath while swimming under water. Small and medium size lizards such as Gecko and Skinks can hold their breath up to 16 minutes.

On the other hand, large lizards such as Iguanas, Asian Water monitor and Komodo dragon can hold breath for 30 to 50 minutes.

Marine Iguanas and Bearded dragon lizards can feed while holding breath under water. Lizards are able to swim back to the surface of water to take breath intermittently. This helps them to continue swimming without retreating to the shores.

How Long Can Lizard Swim?

Lizards can swim for 1 to 30 minutes nonstop. Most of the medium and small lizards swim in shallow waters and often retreat to the shores to bask and take extra breath.

Large lizards such as Tree crocodile Monitor can swim for 30 to 60 minutes continuously. In fact, Marine Iguanas swim very fast and is able to cover 13kilometers without stopping in 60 minutes.

Lizards are able to swim longer while on the water surface than when under water since they can shoot their head often to blow and take more air.

Related: Are Lizards Poisonous?

Can Lizards Walk On Water? 

Yes! Lizards such as Gecko and skinks tend to walk on water that swim. These lizards love shallow waters. Though they have long tails, they rarely use them to swim. Instead, they walk on the water surface by flipping their partially webbed limbs.

In Central America, the lizard called Jesus Christ lizard is known to literally walk on the water. This species has its body and legs adapted to maintain the lizard on the water body. It walks mostly against the water current to prevent it from being carried away.

At times, small lizards would run over the water. Gecko lizards are experts when it comes to running over the water bodies. They raise their tail slightly to acquire full momentum.


Lizards can swim. They use their tail to propel them forward while on the surface or in deep water.

The partially webbed toes of the lizards help them in flapping and navigation while their flat-bottomed berry help in maintaining high buoyance of the lizard when swimming.

Some lizards such as gecko can walk and run on water. Baby lizards can swim though they may not be as excellent as the adult ones.


  1. Scuba-diving lizard can stay underwater for at least 16 minutes
  2. Lizard Swims Like Snake Through Sand | Live Science