Chinese Crocodile Lizard Fact File

Shinisaurus crocodilurus








Wild Unknown

Captive 10 years




Conservation Status



Chinese crocodile lizards are named for the ridges running down their back which resemble those of most crocodilians.

These lizards are semi-aquatic and live close to water in their habitats across China and Vietnam. When threatened they will jump in to the water to evade predation.

For most of the year they spend their day basking in the sun and hunting for small invertebrates to feed on. When temperatures drop below 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) they will enter a period of brumation.

Learn more about these leaping lizards by reading on below.


Chinese crocodile lizards are colored gray-brown across the body with yellow-tan coloration on the underside. Across the throat and side is patterns of red-orange markings.

At the end of the body is a long tail with alternating light and dark bands up to the tip. This powerful tail is an adaptation which helps to push them through the water.

Running down the center of the tail are two ridges.

These reptiles are considered sexually dimorphic with males tending to be larger and more colorful than females. This color intensifies during the breeding season.


Chinese crocodile lizards are carnivores. They feed on invertebrates in the wild.

Chinese Crocodile Lizard


Asia is the native home of the Chinese crocodile lizard. Here, as their name suggests, they can be found in China and Vietnam.


They make their home in subtropical broadleaf forests. Chinese crocodile lizards are considered semi-aquatic and as such often live near small streams. Their habitat often has thick vegetation and overhangs with shelter and sleeping sites.

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Breeding occurs from July to August. Males will become brighter during this season with the aim of attracting a female.

Chinese crocodile lizards give birth to live young after a nine month gestation period. Each litter will include 2 to 12 young.

From birth the young are active and begin to feed themselves. They can swim straight away allowing them to take up their aquatic lifestyle.

At birth the lizards are colored deep brown across their body except for the snout and forehead which are light tan.

After giving birth the parents give no further care to the young. Within a few weeks of birth they will disperse.

Females tend to produce a litter each year. Sexual maturity is reached between 2 and 3 years old.


Chinese crocodile lizards are active by day with most of their activity taking place during the morning or afternoon.

Parts of their day are spent basking on a rock or log near the water. Sleeping occurs near the water on dense vegetation.

A period of hibernation occurs during cold weather. This occurs in groups within a rock crevice or tree hole.

Outside of hibernation they tend to live alone. Only one individual will inhabit each pond.

Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the Chinese crocodile lizard include birds of prey and snakes.

When captured by a predator these reptiles will begin a violent struggle and defecate on the predator to try and protect themselves.

When they see a threat they will dive in to the water. They can remain under water for a long period to escape a predator.

Humans are impacting their population through habitat loss and harvesting mainly to supply the illegal pet trade. Illegal trade is highly present in this species. They are also seen as a traditional remedy for many ailments despite any evidence.

In parts of their range a single Chinese crocodile lizard can provide two month's equivalent salary. This provides a continued incentive to hunt them.

Habitat fragmentation is another threat to the species. This has occurred through the building of roads and other infrastructure.

In 2008 the wild population of Chinese crocodile lizards was estimated at between 1,000 and 2,500 individuals. Their rugged habitat makes accurate counts difficult.

Quick facts

The Chinese crocodile lizard was first described in 1929.

They have been referred to as the “lizard of great sleepiness” due to their frequent periods of low activity. During these times they do not respond to any stimuli. This behavior led to the belief they could cure insomnia which has made them valued in the medicine trade.

Running along the tail are ridges which resemble that of a crocodile giving them their name.

Chinese crocodile lizards are the only remaining member in their genus. Their genus is thought to have survived for 100 million years.

Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Photo Credits


spacebirdy(also known as geimfyglið (:> )=| made with Sternenlaus-spirit), CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One

Public Domain

Middle Two

Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Linie29, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Nguyen, T.Q., Hamilton, P. & Ziegler, T. 2014. Shinisaurus crocodilurus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T57287221A57287235. Downloaded on 01 June 2021.

2021. Chinese Crocodile Lizard. [ebook] Sacramento Zoo, pp.1-2. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2021]. 2021. Chinese Crocodile Lizard | Saint Louis Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2021]. 2021. Chinese Crocodile Lizard | Utah's Hogle Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

EDGE of Existence. 2021. Chinese Crocodile Lizard | EDGE of Existence. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. Chinese crocodile lizard. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

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