Why Do Lizards Poop In Water?

Lizards Poop In Water

Lizards pooping in water is a common occurrence that may seem strange to us mammals. However, there are several good reasons why lizards tend to defecate in water:

  1. Aquatic habitat – Many lizards live in or around water, so it’s simply convenient for them to poop there.
  2. Hygiene – Water helps wash away feces and prevent parasites.
  3. Communication – Poop contains pheromones used to mark territory and send messages.
  4. Regulation – Water helps reptiles regulate body temperature while pooping.
  5. Instinct – Even desert lizards seem drawn to poop in water sources when available.

Below we will explore these reasons in detail, looking at the special excretory adaptations of lizards and how their habitat and biology influences their pooping habits.

Why Aquatic Lizards Poop in Water

Many lizard species are aquatic or semi-aquatic, meaning they live in or around water sources like lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. Examples include:

  • Water dragons
  • Basilisks
  • River turtles
  • Marine iguanas

For these lizards, it is simply convenient and instinctive to poop right into their aquatic environment. Dumping feces directly into the water they inhabit helps quickly wash it away. This prevents fouling and clogging up their homes with poop piles on land.

In particular, lizards that dwell in rocky crevices and burrows around shorelines will benefit by pooping into the water to avoid congesting their small living spaces. Species like crayfish crawling around underwater will also help break down and disperse feces.

Overall, pooping into their aqueous homes helps maintain good hygiene for primarily aquatic lizards. Their bathroom is already effectively a giant toilet bowl!

Semi-Aquatic Lizards Also Instinctively Poop in Water

Many other lizards live in semi-aquatic environments, meaning they spend a lot of time around water sources but also use land. Examples include:

  • Green iguanas
  • Monitor lizards
  • Skinks
  • Geckos
  • Anoles

These lizards frequently poop in the water as well. Even though they have more terrestrial options, instinct drives them to still use water bodies as toilets.

One reason is that water remains effective for quickly flushing away and diluting feces. This prevents unsanitary buildup in their habitats.

Another factor is that visiting and pooping around water serves as territorial marking for semi-aquatic lizards. The areas around pools, streams, and shorelines are prime real estate, so they use feces and urine to signal ownership and boundaries.

Overall, the draw of water for pooping remains strong even for species that don’t spend all their time swimming. The aquatic toilet advantage remains instincts they’ve evolved.

Desert Lizards Also Defecate in Water When Possible

Interestingly, even lizards living in arid desert environments will preferentially poop in water when they can. Species adapted to live far from water sources, like desert iguanas, zebra-tailed lizards, fringe-toed lizards, and desert horned lizards, will still visit water holes just to defecate.

For example, during the rainy season when temporary rain pools form in depressions, desert lizards congregate to both drink and poop. They take the opportunity to rehydrate while also relieving themselves in ideal conditions.

This demonstrates an innate predisposition in lizards to use water for defecation whenever available. The advantages of better hygiene, communication, and temperature regulation make aquatic pooping preferable even in hot, dry habitats.

So for lizards, water remains the #1 bathroom choice regardless of their typical environment and adaptation. Instinct drives them to seek it out for pooping if at all possible.

Unique Excretory System of Lizards

To understand lizard poop habits, it helps to know a little about their unique excretory system. While birds and mammals have separate exits for digestive waste (feces) and nitrogenous waste (urine), lizard bodies combine these.

Lizard kidneys filter blood and produce urine just like other vertebrates. But this urine travels down to the cloaca, a shared chamber with the digestive tract. Here feces and urine mix together before exiting the vent, or cloacal opening.

So lizards don’t pee and poop separately like we’re used to. Instead it all comes out together as a mixture. The white pasty part of lizard droppings is urate, crystallized urine.

Having just one multipurpose exit is part of why lizards so often poop into water sources. With no way to separate urine, they take advantage of water to immediately wash away their combined excrement.

The aquatic toilet serves as an external separator substituting for their bodily lack of distinct urine and feces plumbing.

Using Water to Regulate Body Temperature

Another benefit of pooping in water is temperature regulation. Lizards are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external heat sources to control their body temperature.

Defecation requires a lot of effort and exertion for lizards. It generates internal heat that can spike their temperature. This is especially challenging for small lizards in hot desert climates.

Dipping their tail end into cool water helps counteract this heat spike. It lets lizards keep their core body temperature stable and within functioning limits while pooping.

So beyond washing away waste, water also provides vital temperature regulation. This is a key reason lizards will seek out water specifically for defecation, even crossing hot sand dunes to reach it.

Aquatic Pooping for Hygiene

As mentioned earlier, lizards also poop in water for good hygiene. Reptiles are particularly vulnerable to parasite infections and diseases from contact with feces. Some issues caused by poor sanitation include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Intestinal worms
  • Protozoa like coccidia
  • Flagellates like giardia
  • Amoebic dysentery

To avoid self-reinfection, lizards instinctively use water to quickly dilute and disperse their feces. This prevents direct contact and contamination in their living space.

Additionally, water helps keep the reptiles’ excretory vents clean to further reduce disease risk. Any feces residue is immediately washed off their delicate cloacal tissue.

The aquatic toilet provides a built-in bidet along with sanitary waste disposal!

Underwater Pooping Aids Communication

Beyond practical hygiene and thermoregulation, another interesting driver of aquatic defecation is communication.

A key reason lizards poop in well-trafficked areas is to spread pheromones and scent markings. These chemical signals convey important information about territory, identity, social hierarchy, and mating availability.

The water effectively broadcasts scent messages far and wide for lizards. Flowing water currents can carry the signals much farther than just pile of feces on dry land.

In particular, male lizards advertise their dominance, breeding readiness, and warn off rivals by frequent aquatic pooping in their domain. Females may also signal reproductive status to potential mates this way.

So pooping in well-trafficked water sources assists chemical communication between lizards. Though unappealing to humans, observing who poops where provides a lot of useful intel in the lizard social world!

Common Aquatic Lizards & Their Poop Habits

To give more specific examples, here are some details on a few common aquatic lizard species and details on their watery pooping habits:

Green Iguana

  • Semi-aquatic, found near water and shorelines
  • Often defecates in water to clean cloaca
  • Males mark territory with poop and urate around water holes

Common Basilisk

  • Excellent swimmer, dubbed the “Jesus Christ lizard” for running on water
  • Releases waste directly into water while swimming
  • Urinate frequently to communicate with scent signals

Chinese Water Dragon

  • Arboreal but need constant access to water to soak and swim
  • Mostly poop while sitting half-submerged in water
  • Males mark spots by docks, trees, rocks around pond

Red-Eared Slider Turtle

  • Semi-aquatic turtle living in slow streams and ponds
  • Release feces underwater while swimming around
  • Affinity for pooping after basking out of water

Marine Iguana

  • Only lizard adapted to marine life, endemic to the Galapagos
  • Exclusively poop and urinate directly into ocean
  • Groups congregate on coastal rocks to sun and poop

Desert Iguana

  • Adapted for dry deserts but visits oases and rain pools
  • Pooping in water a rare treat to regulate temperature
  • Also urine-mark rocks and logs around watering holes

As you can see, while adapted to diverse environments, all lizards innately use water for elimination when available. This advantageous habit likely evolved millions of years ago in primitive aquatic reptiles.

Key Reasons Lizards Are Drawn to Poop in Water:

  • Instinctive habit evolved in ancestral aquatic species
  • Convenient toilet readily available in aquatic habitats
  • Effective dispersal and dilution of waste
  • Temperature regulation while pooping
  • Cleaning of cloacal vents
  • Spreading chemical signals for communication
  • Avoid fouling terrestrial habitats
  • Scarcity of water sources in deserts

So for both primitive and modern lizards, pooping in water remains an optimal toilet solution offering many benefits. This explains why it’s such a widespread phenomenon scientists have documented across all types of lizard habitats.

Common Questions About Lizards Pooping in Water

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. Do lizards poop in their water dish at home?

Yes, lizards kept as pets often poop in their water dish. This instinctive tendency can be troublesome for owners trying to keep their habitat clean. Using large water containers can help dilute waste and reduce fouling. Some owners use separate containers for soaking versus drinking water to minimize contamination.

2. Why does my bearded dragon poop in its bath?

Bearded dragons often defecate in their water baths for the same reasons wild lizards poop in aquatic habitats. The warm, soothing water helps stimulate their bowels while allowing immediate washing of waste. Try emptying and refilling the bath after your bearded dragon uses the toilet to keep it clean.

3. Are lizard droppings and urine harmful in swimming pools?

While not a serious risk, lizard excrement in pools should be avoided. The nitrogenous waste can feed algae growth, and bacteria or parasites could potentially cause infections if accidentally ingested. Maintaining proper chlorine levels will minimize risks, but try to remove lizard waste from pools when noticed.

4. How can I stop my pet green iguana from pooping in its water?

Providing a large pool that’s easy to clean might be the best solution. You can also place rocks and branches in the water so the iguana can perch its hindquarters over the edges. Adding a basking rock near the pool allows toileting after swimming. Be sure to give fresh drinking water in a separate clean bowl.

5. Why does my bearded dragon’s poop turn white in the bath?

The warm water makes the urates (crystalized urine) in your bearded dragon’s droppings dissolve and disperse through the bath. This leaves just the solid dark feces behind, giving the appearance of white poop as the urates dissipate. It’s a normal effect of pooping in water.

6. Is it unhealthy for lizards if they can’t poop in water?

Habitat permitting, lizards should have some access to water for optimal health. However, many adapt well to dry environments. Providing moist hide-boxes can help lizards with shedding and hydration. Sufficient drinking water in clean bowls minimizes risk of constipation. Overall, dry-adapted lizards can still thrive without water toileting solutions.

7. How often do pet lizards need to poop?

Depending on size, most lizards poop about once per day, but some smaller species may poop multiple times daily. Reduced appetite, constipation, or lack of poop for several days could indicate health issues requiring veterinary attention. Make sure to provide the proper temperatures, UVB light, hydration, and nutrition to support healthy lizard digestion and regular bowel movements.

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