How To Tell If a Lizard Is Dead Or Playing Dead Or Sleeping?

Different animals show unusual behaviors, like lizards. Have you noticed a lizard lying motionless? Do you think lizards can show apparent death? Let us discuss in detail how to tell if a lizard is dead.

Yes, lizards can play dead for many reasons, but the most common is to protect them from danger. They also fake death to attract possible prey or to mate for mating. This phenomenon is also called death feigning, tonic immobility, or catatonia, in which animals show apparent death.

Now we know that lizards show an unexpected behavior of pretending to be dead or death feigning, but you will be thinking, why do they do so? Let us discuss it in detail!

Do Lizards Play Dead?

Lizards show death feigning because of the defense mechanism they are famous for. In this state, lizards lay still like dead to external stimuli or responses.

When a predator catches a lizard, its first defense response is tail autotomy (tail breaking). If it fails, there comes tonic immobility to get them out of danger. In this, lizards lie on their backs, play dead, and stop moving, using tonic immobility to avoid predation.

Tonic immobility is also helpful for lizards in hunting. In this process, lizards pretend to be dead to attract their prey closer to them. The prey believes it is dead and feels safe approaching a lizard. It suddenly attacks the prey and hunts prey.

How Do Lizards Play Dead?

When a lizard senses any danger, it goes into tonic immobility quickly. They become rigid or curl up their body, remain still, and even roll over on their back with closed eyes or fully relax their muscles and lie still. 

During tonic immobility, lizards drop their breathing and heart rate. They stay in this stage until danger exists. They have learned to do so because they know it works and save them from being prey.

How Long Does a Lizard Play Dead?

Lizards fool their predators by acting dead or lying motionless for long periods.

Lizards will continue to play dead as long as danger exists. They can do this for a few seconds to as long as 15 minutes. If they continue to do longer, they will face a life-or-death situation.

The process of tonic immobility is energy-requiring and makes the lizard lazy and vulnerable. Most often, this process lasts for short periods and depends on the position and situation of the predators. If predators are near, this state lasts longer but will shorten if predators are away.

Do Play Dead Save Lizards?

Tonic immobility can save lizards because most predators hunt by movement and eat live lizards. When lizards show death feigning, predator loses their interest; just considering it dead, they leave it and move on.

Which Lizard Species Play Dead?

There are over 6000 lizard species globally, but a few lizards famous for acting dead are as follows.

  • Crested Geckos.
  • Gecko Leopard lizard.
  • Southern Angle-headed dragon.
  • Bearded dragon.
  • Chinese water dragons.
  • Argentine black and white Tegu.
  • Savannah Monitor.
Which Lizard Species Play Dead?? How To Tell If It Is Playing Dead Or Really Dead Or Sleeping?

The Crested Gecko and Leopard Geckos are docile and calm pets in some regions globally and can act as dead on exposure to threats and predators.

We had discussed in detail the species of lizard which can show death feigning. Stay connected to get more information about determining whether the lizard is dead, in a tonic immobility state, or sleeping.

How To Tell If a Lizard Is Playing Dead Or Really Dead Or Sleeping?

It is essential to determine whether the lizard is dead, playing dead, or sleeping. So let us discuss in detail how we can confirm instead, a lizard is dead or feigning death or in hibernation or sleep.

Really Dead:

It is important to ensure the lizard’s death because they show almost the same behavior of tonic immobility. However, a few factors help you determine that lizard is deceased.

  • The first stage of death is primary muscle relaxation, making the lizard appear limp and nerveless.
  • The second stage is Rigor Mortis or rigidity because, after death, the body’s muscles get stiffened, making the lizard stiff.
  • Some other vital signs are glassy and lifeless eyes, open and slack mouth, and tongue protruding out.
  • In the last, the wasps and ants accumulate around the dead lizard and decompose it. If all of these indicators are, you can dispose of your deceased pet lizard and buy a new one.

Playing Dead:

It is important to determine whether the lizard is playing dead or deceased. You need to follow a few simple steps to confirm the case.

  • First of all, notice the breathing of the lizard. To do so, you can put a mirror in front of its nostrils. If it is breathing, it will make the mirror foggy; it is indeed playing dead.
  • You can gently poke the lizards with your finger or a stick. It will encourage the lizard to move if you do not do so, then try another step.
  • In the second step, you can offer food to the lizard because the smell and sight of food will motivate the lizard to move.
  • Finally, you can place your lizard in a warm water bath if else fails. It stimulates the lizard to move.


Most lizard species are dynamic during the day and are sluggish at night. Lizards can rest for about 4 hours, depending upon the species, and sleep with closed eyes. However, the environment influences sleeping activity in lizards. If you want to check if the lizard is sleeping, poke it, and it will efficiently respond and run away.

Lizards are cold-blooded animals and cannot maintain their body temperatures. So, in cold weather, they spend a lot of time sleeping to maintain their body temperature normal. Some species can go into a long sleep or hibernation that lasts 3-4 months. At the same time, in tropical and temperate regions, lizards hibernate in summer.

During this long period of sleep, the stored fats in the lizard’s tail act as food and energy source for them. During hibernation or long rest, they save energy by lowering their breath rate and heart rate and reducing their body temperature.


Finally, lizards show this remarkable defensive behavior of play-dead to survive predation and to attract prey closer to them and their mates for mating purposes. This is an excellent behavioral adaptation to survive and reproduce. However, we have covered possible and necessary information to tell if a lizard is dead.

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