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Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Shinisaurus crocodilurus

crocodile lizard


The Chinese crocodile lizard is so named for the appearance of its tail, which has an enlarged pair of scales running in two sharply protruding ridges down its length like a crocodile.

Coloration is highly variable, combining shades of grey and brown on the upper surface and yellowish-tan on the lower with distinctive bright orange markings. Males are usually more colorful than females, often being strikingly adorned with brilliant orange sides and throat, occasionally extending into the side of the head, with these bright colors intensifying during the breeding season. Newborn crocodile lizards are uniformly deep brown, with a light tan snout and forehead.

A relatively small lizard, an adult crocodile lizard is up to 16 inches long and weighs up to 10 ounces, with males being larger than females.

Distribution and Habitat

The Chinese crocodile lizard is found in southern China and northeastern Vietnam. It lives in evergreen and bamboo forests near slow-moving streams or ponds with rocky and sandy bottoms with vines dangling above.

Habits and Behaviors

Although usually solitary, the crocodile lizard congregates with other lizards in rock crevices or tree holes before hibernating from November to March. Hibernation is triggered when the water temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Hibernation ends in March when the pond water warms.

The Chinese crocodile lizard is able to dive beneath the surface and remain motionless or move around underwater for long periods of time. To do so it is able to reduce its respiratory rate drastically. It will also spend long periods of time out of the water, frequently remaining motionless for hours in a "metabolic pause."

When threatened, the crocodile lizard will flee into the water. It swims using its powerful tail and is a strong swimmer. If caught, it becomes a fierce fighter, struggling violently all the while defecating, hissing, and biting to become free.

Crocodile lizards are most active during the day, with activity concentrated in the morning and evening, but they rarely engage in intense activity.


Breeding takes place in July and August. The female is pregnant for 8-12 months, and she gives live birth to two to twelve offspring. The young are very active at birth, feeding and swimming almost immediately. Neither parent cares for the babies. The young remain at their birth pond area for a few weeks and then leave to seek their own pond or stream to defend. They reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years.


Crocodile lizards feed on snails, tadpoles, dragonfly larvae, worms, and insects.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Reptilia
order Squamata
suborder Sauria
family Shinosauridae
genus & species Shinisaurus crocodilurus

Toronto Zoo
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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Reptiles and Amphibians >> Suborder Sauria

This page was last updated on August 07, 2017.