Most of us have seen lizards — we just don’t see them very frequently.

It’s not that we never see them. On the contrary, you have probably seen a lizard on occasion scurrying across the foundation of your house or across a nearby sidewalk. Or maybe you saw one sunning itself on a rock or on the side of an old barn. But admit it — the reason you remember these occasions is because they don’t happen frequently.

The primary reason lizard sightings aren’t the most common occurrences in the natural world is because of the creature’s habits: Lizards tend to be secretive animals that can find cover quickly at the slightest hint of danger. Summertime walks in the woods are frequently spiced with the sounds of lizards scurrying through the surrounding leaf cover, but you’ll be hearing many more lizards than you’ll see.

But they’re here. Missouri is home to 13 species and subspecies of lizards, most of which can be found here in the southern part of the state. Lizards are a sub-order (Lacertillia) of the Squamata order of reptiles and are close relatives of snakes. Many people think the main difference between lizards and snakes is that one has legs and the other doesn’t. However, that’s not the case because the western slender glass lizard has no legs. The two important distinguishing characteristics of a lizard are its moveable eyelids and ear holes: Snakes have neither of these features.

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PRAIRIE LIZARD – A Prairie Lizard lays on a rock at a glade nearby Eminence. during a summer month.(Photo: Noppadol Paothong/Missouri Department of Conservation).

All Missouri lizards eat insects, and many provide a beneficial service to humans by being a natural control of insects that can be pests. For instance, skinks and fence lizards are known to eat termites in their winged life stage as they emerge from underground in mid-spring.

Some lizards can release a part — or all — of their tail when grabbed by a predator. Once the tail is broken, the lizard quickly runs for shelter and is safe, leaving a squirming tail to confuse or distract the predator. A lizard’s tail has special muscles that constrict at a break point and prevent any blood loss. After a lizard has lost its tail, a new one will eventually grow back, but it will not be as colorful or elegant as the original. It may take three or four months to grow the replacement.

If you’re interested in seeing lizards, now is the time to start looking. Here are three of the area’s more common species:

Prairie lizard: This grayish-brown lizard, which grows from four to seven inches in length, is common throughout the area. It lives in open forests, glades and along the edges of woods and fields. As its former name “fence lizard” implies, it can frequently be seen on split-rail fences, as well as lumber piles, logs and old railroad ties.

Five-lined skink: This five to eight-inch lizard can be seen in a variety of colors, depending on its stage of life. Adults are usually dark brown and have a few lighter tan stripes. However, during breeding season, the head of the adult turns bright red. Young five-lined skinks, on the other hand, are bright blue and striped. It’s thought that the bright blue coloration of juveniles protects them from attack by aggressive adults of their own species.

Broad-headed skink: This olive-brown lizard can be found during the day in woodlots and forests. They are frequently sighted near trees, stumps, logs or dilapidated farm buildings. Broad-headed skinks have been reported up to 12 inches in length, but most likely, the ones you’ll see will be between four and six inches.

These are three lizards that are common in this area, but you may find others.