Desert spiny lizards depend on shade to help regulate their body temperature.
Desert spiny lizards depend on shade to help regulate their body temperature. (Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock)

It seems like we learn something new every day about how climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet.

And here today's statistic, one that will make you sit up in your chair: A staggering 40 percent of the planet's lizard populations will be extinct by 2080.

Why? Because as global temperatures rise each year, these scaly critters are struggling to adapt their bodies' thermoregulatory processes to the new climate reality.

What's more troubling is that a recent study examining thermoregulation in spiny lizards in New Mexico has uncovered just how imprecise current scientific models are when predicting how well a species will fair in a warming world.

"If we really want to understand how populations of organisms will respond to climate change, we can't use a simple, back-of-the-envelope method," explains Mike Sears, a professor of biology at Clemson University and co-author of the study. "We need to think on a finer scale than we have been."

In the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a team of scientists evaluate how much energy is required of spiny lizards to move in and out of patches of sun and shade.

"Most models assume that an animal can be anywhere in its environment at any time, which doesn’t account for how much energy an animal spends to regulate its temperature," Mike Angilletta, a professor at Arizona State University and co-author of the study, said. "Animals have to move and search for shade, which makes cooling down more difficult when patches of shade are far apart."

You can read all about the study on the Arizona State University blog, but essentially what these researchers found was the efficiency of the lizards' thermoregulation is largely dependent on the availability and frequency of distinct shady spots.

Raymond Huey, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, is calling the paper a breakthrough: "Scientists studying climate warming will now be forced to evaluate the spatial distribution of sunny-shady patches, and not just compute the fraction of an area that is sunny or shady. Frankly, that makes our research lives much harder, but also much more interesting."

While spiny lizards are not critically endangered, it's important to note that there are plenty of other forces — from invasive predators to habitat destruction — that are stacked against the world's reptilian creatures. Continue below to see five incredible lizards that we may soon lose if nothing is done to halt their demise.

Electric blue gecko

Electric blue gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi)
Electric blue gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi) (Photo: reptiles4all/Shutterstock)

Endemic to just a few square kilometers of eastern Tanzania, the electric blue gecko is classified as critically endangered due to the illegal international pet trade. A 2012 study concluded that as many as 42,000 specimens had been collected for the pet trade between 2004 and 2009 — a number that accounts for 15 percent of the population.

Turks and Caicos rock iguana

Turks and Caicos rock iguana (Cyclura carinata)
Turks and Caicos rock iguana (Cyclura carinata) (Photo: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock)

These lizards, native to the Turk and Caicos Islands of the Caribbean, once flourished in great numbers, but their population has declined dramatically in the past half-century due to invasive predators. In the 1970s, a whopping 15,000 of these creatures were wiped out by cats and dogs over the course of just five years.

Ambre Forest stub-tailed chameleon

Ambre Forest stub-tailed chameleon (Brookesia desperata)
Ambre Forest stub-tailed chameleon (Brookesia desperata) (Photo: Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend TM, Vences M/Wikimedia)

Found within northern Madagascar's Foret d'Ambre Special Reserve, these peculiar chameleons are critically threatened by the loss of their endemic habitat due to agricultural development, timber production, quarrying and other industrial operations. In fact, their scientific name, Brookesia desperata, is a nod to the desperate state of their habitat.

Fiji crested iguana

Fiji crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis)
Fiji crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) (Photo: electra/Shutterstock)

Like many other critically endangered lizards around the world, the Fiji crested iguana is up against a whole host of threats including habitat loss, invasive predators, agricultural development and competitive grazing from feral goats that were transported to the island in the 1970s.

Tarzan's chameleon

Tarzan's chameleon (Calumma tarzan)
Tarzan's chameleon (Calumma tarzan) (Photo: Sebastian Gehring/Wikimedia)

This lovely chameleon species was only discovered in 2009, but it's already been listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. Like many chameleons, these creatures live most of their lives in bushes and trees, but it's unlikely you'll find one swinging from vines like Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous jungle man.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.