Pushups have a mixed reputation among humans. While we all realize the importance of exercise, many of us loathe them to the point we’d rather skip working out than do them.
But lizards are of another opinion.
Have you ever seen a lizard doing pushups? That might seem weird at first, but when you know the facts about their biology, it makes perfect sense.
Lizards are ectotherms—their body temperature is controlled by the environment around them. In order to regulate their internal temperatures, they do something called ‘torpor’ where they go into a sort of hibernation in which they don’t eat or drink so that their bodies can save energy and cool down.
But sometimes this isn’t enough because lizards live in where the temperature can reach extremes that could neutralize its ability to move. So, what do these reptiles do? They use pushups to help cool themselves down. But there are other benefits for lizards who do them.
In this article, we are going to learn why lizards do pushups. There are many reasons for this behavior, so it’s important to understand the context they are being done in.
Why Do Lizards Do Push-Ups
If you live in an area with lots of lizards, you will probably see them doing pushups. They look funny, but also make you wonder why they’d do it.
Here’s how it looks:
Lizards use this method to prevent muscle cramps and even heart attacks; to stay fit and healthy. While it may seem strange that a reptile needs to exercise at all, they actually need it to build up their muscles and stay strong enough for when they’re fighting or looking to attract a mate.
Plus, it’s a display of strength. They’re like us. We flex our muscles to assert dominance, and so do they.
Lizards rely on doing lots of mini-pushups throughout the day rather than one long bout of exercise. This is because they only have short bursts of energy to get prey, defend their territory or attract mates with elaborate displays like pushups.
Editor’s note: Both male and female lizards do pushups, but males are a lot more zealous when they do it. They’re trying to impress the ladies, after all.
How Pushups help Lizards Regulate Body Temperature
Lizards are cold-blooded animals, which means they can’t regulate their own body temperature. Instead, they rely on external factors for it.
When lizards go about their day, they follow a daily routine based entirely around where and when the sun is available for heat. If it’s cold outside, sometimes lizards will do pushups all throughout the day as an exercise technique that keeps their heart rate up and helps them stay limber.
When lizards do pushups, they contract their muscles and flex them for a few seconds. Then they relax and rest for about one second before repeating the process again. This helps prevent muscle cramps or other injuries while also keeping their heart rate up so that when it’s time to move around in search of food, they can do it without getting tired too quickly.
Lizards do this for two reasons: to warm up their muscles and also to prevent blood clots in the veins of lizards. If they didn’t keep moving, cramps or other injuries could occur—especially when they are cold outside.
Similarly, if a lizard’s heart rate doesn’t get to the right level, blood clots could form and cause a heart attack. By exercising (and doing pushups in particular) lizards can prevent these dangerous situations from happening.
In-Depth Look at Lizard Pushups
Lizards aren’t the only reptiles to do pushups (turtles, for example, also do them). But they are a good example of why it’s important for ectotherms like them and turtles to keep their muscles in fighting shape.
The process is called ‘isometric exercise’ (where muscles are flexed but no movement occurs) and it helps them keep their heart rates up. It also prevents muscle cramps, dehydration or even death by preventing blood clots in the veins of lizards.
When they do pushups, lizards contract their bodies for several seconds, then relax for a few seconds. This is repeated over and over to keep their muscles toned without wearing themselves out too much at once.
Lizards do this because they are cold-blooded creatures who need the outside heat to regulate their body temperatures. If you’ve ever seen lizards basking in the sun, that’s what they’re doing—warming up their muscles so they can be more limber and active.
So, if you see your pet lizard do pushups, it’s just them exercising to stay healthy—and doing us humans a favor by giving us an example of how we should lift ourselves out of our sedentary lifestyles.
Another big reason they do pushups is for territoriality. The lizards will usually stand up on their hind legs, puff out their throats and extend one leg to make themselves look bigger and more fearsome. This happens even when they are in an enclosed area like a zoo terrarium. If you see a lizard at a zoo doing pushups, it’s because it feels like you’re invading its personal space.
Pushups also help lizards get ready for a fight by strengthening the muscles in their arms and chest. It’s like an intense version of weight training that helps reptiles show what they’re made of before it’s time to really get down and dirty.
The last big reason lizards do pushups is warding off predators—like birds, snakes and other reptiles who might try to make a meal out of them. While the effectiveness may seem dubious to us, other reptiles note the behavior and seem to leave lizards alone after the pushups. It’s bizarre, but it works.
The next time you see your pet lizard doing his funny little pushup routine, you can rest easy knowing that it’s not a sign of illness. In fact, he might just be trying to keep himself healthy and strong so he can impress his friends or find a nice lady lizard to mate with.
Lizard Workout Patterns
This is a fascinating observation. Each lizard species performs the same pattern of pushups.
For example, this paper published by an Associate Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma points out that one of the species (it doesn’t specify which, just that it was an iguanidae) that was being observed always performed a double pushup, then a single pushup, then a series of double pushups.
Another species had a different movement pattern. The researchers timed each pattern with a stopwatch. What they found out was amusing and intriguing: each species always took the same time to perform their workout routine.
So, each species of lizards has its own little workout regimen. And each one performs it perfectly. Isn’t it crazy?
The Environment Influences the Workout
Another interesting thing to note is how the environment influences the pushup patterns of the lizard.
Generally, the more colorful the lizard, the more pronounced the workout. Also, species that make themselves seen more often, such as those who live in the trees, do pushups more often.
Conversely, lizards who live on the ground do simpler movements and shorter workouts.
This makes sense. Lizards often do pushups as a display of strength or interest. If there’s nobody around, there’s nobody to display strength to.
And, as we already mentioned, the colder outside, the more pushups they do. Movement generates heat, helping them regulate their body temperature. Since they are cold-blooded animals, they can’t afford to stand still in the cold.
If it’s too cold outside, lizards lose their ability to move. On average, this starts happening around 42 Fahrenheit (5.5°). Specifically, air temperature is what you should be looking at if you want to learn when lizards stop moving. Their muscles can’t move anymore when it’s too cold outside. That’s why lizards go in hibernation during the coldest months.
Lizards do pushups for a plethora of reasons. Depending on context, they could do it to keep themselves in top shape, heat their body, attract a mate, scare a predator away, warning an intruder, or preparing for a fight.
What’s crazy is how precise the movements are. Each species of lizards performs its own workout with extreme perfection. Every Leopard gecko does the same workout in the same timeframe. Same goes for basilisks, collared lizards, and every one of the over 6.000 lizard species that live on this planet.
Another fascinating thing is how both males and females do the pushups. However, the females are a lot laxer about it. Males flex their muscles to impress the ladies, while females are doing it mostly for survival. The male has to show that he can protect the female (and, by extension, the offspring).
Pet lizards do pushups too. If you see your cute little bugger doing pushups, let them. They are just trying to stay healthy.
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