Knob-scaled lizard (Xenosaurus grandis)

Close up of a knob-scaled lizard
Loading more images and videos...

Knob-scaled lizard fact file

Knob-scaled lizard description

GenusXenosaurus (1)

The knob-scaled lizard (Xenosaurus grandis) is a secretive reptile (3) with a flattened head and body, an adaptation to its habit of dwelling in narrow crevices (5). It is greyish to dark-brown, with tan to cream bands or blotches (6). Its common name refers to the tiny bumps or ‘knob-like scales’ on the upperparts, while the underparts are covered with smooth scales (7). It has a forked tongue, which it flicks in and out, and the mouth bears small, sharp, fang-like teeth (6).

Currently, five subspecies of the knob-scaled lizard are recognised, but this species’ taxonomy is currently under revision and several of these subspecies may be reclassified as distinct species (1).

Snout-vent length: 6.8 - 12.9 cm (2)

Knob-scaled lizard biology

The diurnal knob-scaled lizard feeds primarily upon insects, especially on Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets and locusts) and Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars of moths and butterflies), but it also occasionally feeds on small vertebrates such as lizards (3). An ambush predator, the knob-scaled lizard waits hidden in a rocky crevice until launching a surprise attack when prey comes within range (6). This lizard is a solitary species which will aggressively defend its crevice from other lizards, including other individuals of the same species (3).

The knob-scaled lizard gives birth to live young in late spring or early summer (3) (8), after a nine-month gestation period (9). On average, each litter contains three young (10), but litters of two to seven young have been reported (3) (10). Male knob-scaled lizards reach maturity at 28 months, while females reach maturity a little later at 32 months (11). The growth rate for males and females is highly dependent on the seasonal availability of food, with growth rate being greatest during the wet season (11).


Knob-scaled lizard range

The knob-scaled lizard’s range extends from central-southern Mexico to central Guatemala (1).


Knob-scaled lizard habitat

The knob-scaled lizard inhabits a variety of tropical forest types, including tropical rainforest, cloud forest, deciduous forest, and oak forest (1). It can also be found in more open, disturbed habitats (3), but is always found in association with rock crevices (1) (3).


Knob-scaled lizard status

The knob-scaled lizard is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Knob-scaled lizard threats

Many knob-scaled lizard populations are threatened by human activities and are suffering from deterioration to their habitat, which is declining in both extent and quality (1). One of the five subspecies, Xenosaurus grandis grandis, is believed to have been reduced to just two populations (1). One of these populations, located on Buena Vista Mountain, Mexico, is highly threatened by the activities of a cement factory, which includes demolition of the landscape to obtain raw materials, thereby degrading the lizard’s habitat. In addition, the knob-scaled lizard is captured for the international pet trade (1).


Knob-scaled lizard conservation

The knob-scaled lizard is known to occur within two protected areas in Mexico: the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve and Ocote Biosphere Reserve (1). If, following taxonomic revision, some of the subspecies are reclassified and elevated to distinct species, their conservation status will need to be re-evaluated and it is likely that each will be recognized as seriously threatened (1).


Find out more

To find out about the conservation of lizards and other reptiles see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Cloud forest
A tropical mountain forest, with a high incidence of cloud cover throughout the year.
Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
Active during the day.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Relating to taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. Smith, G.R., Lemos-Espinal, J.A. and Ballinger, R.E. (1997) Sexual dimorphism in two species of knob-scaled lizards (Genus Xenosaurus) from Mexico. Herpetologica, 53(2): 200-205.
  3. Ballinger, R.E., Lemos-Espinal, J., Sanoja-Sarabia, S. and Coady, N.R. (1995) Ecological observations of the lizard, Xenosaurus grandis in Cuautlapan, Veracruz, Mexico. Biotropica, 27(1): 128-132.
  4. Zúñiga-Vega, J.J., Valverde, T., Rojas-González, R.I. and Lemos-Espinal, J.A. (2007) Analysis of the population dynamics of an endangered lizard (Xenosaurus grandis) through the use of projection matrices. Copeia, 2007: 324-335. 
  5. Pianka, E.R. and Vitt, L.J. (2003) Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.
  6. Hall, D. (2007) The Ultimate Guide to Snakes and Reptiles. Regency House Publishing, Kent.
  7. Gadow, H. (1901) Amphibia and Reptiles. Macmillan & Co, London.
  8. Fritts, T.H. (1966) Notes on the reproduction of Xenosaurus grandis. Copeia, 1966: 598.
  9. Ballinger, R.E., Lemos-Espinal, J.A. and Smith, G.R. (2000) Reproduction in females of three species of crevice-dwelling lizards (genus Xenosaurus) from Mexico. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 35: 179-183.
  10. Lemos-Espinal, J.A., Smith, G.R. and Ballinger, R.E. (2003) Ecology of Xenosaurus grandis agrenon, a knob-scaled lizard from Oaxaca, México. Journal of Herpetology, 37(1): 192-196.
  11. Zúñiga-Vega, J.J., Rojas-González, R.I, Lemos-Espinal, J.A. and Pérez-Trejo, M.E. (2005) Growth ecology of the lizard Xenosaurus grandis in Veracruz, México. Journal of Herpetology, 39(3): 433-443.

Image credit

Close up of a knob-scaled lizard  
Close up of a knob-scaled lizard

© Twan Leenders

Twan Leenders
Conservation Biologist
Connecticut Audubon Society
2325 Burr Street
CT 06825
United States of America


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Knob-scaled lizard (Xenosaurus grandis) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top