Scuba diving lizard (Water anole underwater breathing)


How long can lizards breathe underwater?

Water anoles are incredible little creatures. They are small lizards that typically live alongside rivers and are called river anoles. Scientists originally thought when they disappeared underwater they were holding their breath. But it turns out they were wrong. Let’s find out how these little water anoles can survive for up to 15 minutes underwater…

Scuba diving lizard in 10 seconds…

Scientists have only as recently as 2015 discovered that a small gecko-like lizard that lives next to streams in the mountains of Costa Rica appears to have evolved a kind of scuba tank. This scuba diving lizard can stay underwater for long periods, where it was originally thought it was holding its breathe. The river anole can remain submerged for at least 16 minutes. It does so by blowing out air into a bubble and then re-inhales this air whilst underwater.

Scuba diving lizard – the water anole underwater breathing lizard

This little creature has fascinated me. Being a scuba diver and knowing how a scuba tank helps me to stay underwater, seeing natures way of doing the same thing is amazing! See Lindsey’s twitter feed video of the scuba diving lizard below:

The scuba diving skills of this little lizard have only recently (well 2015) been discovered by scientists. This new discover was documented by Lindsey Swierk, professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University New York. This discovery was quite by accident of this stream-side dwelling small gecko-like lizard. It lives in the mountains of Costa Rica where Swierk happened to be at the time.

I’m sure that the beloved Jacques Cousteau, inventor of the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus or SCUBA, would have loved this discovery!

These underwater breathing lizards are called water anoles (Anolis aquaticus) and they appear to have evolved some kind of scuba tank.

The lizard’s scuba tank allows then to stay underwater for long periods, where before this new information was discover, it was originally thought the lizards were holding their breathe.

How long can lizards breathe underwater?

Having developed a scuba tank, the water anole can remain submerged for at least 16 minutes. So instead of holding its breathe as originally thought, it breathes by blowing out air into a bubble and then re-inhales this air whilst remaining underwater.

From what has been documented and filmed (see video below) the lizard appears to have formed an underwater respiration system. This underwater respiratory system consists of a recycled air bubble that clings to the anole’s head, as seen in the video below.

Why do water anoles take to the water?

According to Lindsey Swierk one of the reason why water anoles dive underwater is an anti-predatory strategy. They are quite slow creatures and would otherwise be vulnerable to predators like birds. Which means if they can remain under the water for a long time they can avoid a predatory attack.

These lizards aren’t particularly speedy, and taking to the water is a very effective option. (Take it from a biologist who sometimes struggles to capture her study organism because they’re so good at diving.) It’s easy to ‘disappear’ to a predator’s eye once you hide under water for a few minutes. I think that any underwater breathing adaptations in water anoles would have arisen to extend the amount of time they can stay in their underwater refuge.”

Lindsey Swierk – Phys.org – Binghamton University

Once submerged underwater the scuba diving lizard disappears from the sight of the predator. They stay there for a while whilst the predator moves on. Hence why it becomes a good survival strategy and why these water anoles can stay underwater for at least 16 minutes.

I think that any underwater breathing adaptations in water anoles would have arisen to extend the amount of time they can stay in their underwater refuge.”

Lindsey Swierk

The scuba diving lizard also hunts underwater

The scuba diving lizard isn’t just looking for refuge underwater to hide from predators. It has been discovered from the analysis of the lizard’s stomach contents that they also hunt for insects underwater too. The species of insect found in their stomachs are those found underwater in the Costa Rica streams.

Perhaps they use the time whilst avoiding a predator to eat!

“Scuba-diving” lizard can stay underwater for 16 minutes video:

The Galapagos marine iguana

Galapagos marine iguana - salt water lizard

The scuba diving lizard or water anole isn’t the only lizard to dive underwater. The other lizard that also swims and eats underwater is the Galapagos marine iguana.

The Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), which is also known as the sea iguana or saltwater iguana is a species of iguana only found on the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador).

These marine animals have the ability to forage for algae in the sea. But due to the salty content of the algae these marine lizards have developed a unique method to expel excess salt. To do so they snort the excess salty water from their nostrils.

More Reading: Galapagos liveaboard comparison chart (7 Galapagos dive liveaboards)

I hope you enjoyed this article about scuba diving lizards

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkelling. Please use the comments section below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof go-pro’s!

If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkelling or scuba diving (or specifically about scuba diving lizards), please comment below with your questions.

There will also be many more articles about scuba and scuba diving safety tips (and on snorkelling too) for you to read and learn about this fabulous sport.

Have fun and be safe!

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