} CAS: Teachers - Snakes and Lizards Length and Movement

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Anytime Lesson Plan: Snakes and Lizards Length and Movement


By constructing a rope that illustrates the lengths of various snakes and lizards, students will be introduced to the diversity of snakes and lizards in terms of size, diet, and habitat while practicing using a tool to measure distance.


By constructing a rope that illustrates the lengths of various snakes and lizards, students will:

  1. be introduced to the diversity of snakes and lizards in terms of size, diet, and habitat
  2. act out how some snakes and lizards move
  3. practice using a tool to measure distance


  • class set of Snakes and Lizards Measurement Rope** (one per group of students)
  • images of reptiles (optional)

This activity involves laying out yarn or twine and measuring the lengths of 8 different snakes and lizards.  The largest measurement is 9 meters (29.5 feet), so this activity is best conducted on a school yard, in a park, or other location where there is enough room to spread out. 

**The first time you do this activity, you will need to make a class set of Snakes and Lizards Measurement Ropes.  The materials for this class set are:

  • Snakes and Lizards Fact Cards (one set per group of students + one for the teacher)
  • yarn or twine (just over 9 meters (29.5 feet) long, one per group of students + one for the teacher)
  • toilet paper or paper towel roll, or similar tube around which to wrap the yarn (one per group of students + one for the teacher)
  • colored tape (to mark the lengths of each of the animals)
  • paper clips (8 per group of students + one for the teacher)


  • adaptation: a structure or behavior that increases an organism’s chance of surviving and reproducing in a particular environment
  • ectothermic: refers to an organism whose body temperature varies according to ambient external temperatures, i.e. cold-blooded
  • reptile: any cold-blooded vertebrate of the Class Reptilia including snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles, alligators, crocodiles .  This Class includes the Orders:
    • Squamata: snakes, lizards, and worm lizards
    • Crocodilia: crocodiles, alligators, and caimans
    • Testudines: turtles and tortoises
    • Sphenodontia: tuatara – there are 2 species of tuatara, and they most closely resemble (and are most closely related to) lizards 
  • squamate: an animal in the Order Squamata that includes the legged and legless lizards, including snakes



  1. Print out the Snakes and Lizards Fact Cards in color.  Cut out each card, hole-punch the corner.  Place a paper clip through the hole.  The paper clip will be used to attach the card to the yarn at the distance representing the length of each animal depicted.
  2. Cut just over 9 meter (29.5 feet) lengths of yarn, one for each student group. 
  3. Measure the yarn at the distances indicated below, marking each spot with the colored tape.  Place the appropriate card at each distance with the paperclip.  The paperclip should go through the yarn to prevent the card from moving.
    • 10 cm (4 inches):  Blue Gecko
    • 45 cm (1.5 feet):  Panther Chameleon
    • 76 cm (2.5 feet):  Green Basilisk
    • 91 cm (3 feet):  Paradise Flying Snake
    • 1.5 meters (5 feet):  Water Monitor
    • 2.4 meters (8 feet):  Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
    • 3 meters (10 feet):  Komodo Dragon
    • 9 meters (29.5 feet):  Green Anaconda
  4. Attach yarn to an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll so that students can wind and unwind it easily.  Roll the yarn + cards up onto the roll.


  1. Tell students that we are going to be studying snakes and lizards today, and that they belong to a group of animals called reptiles.  Ask students to give examples of reptiles.  Other reptiles include crocodiles and alligators, tortoises and turtles.  Show pictures of reptiles (lizard, snake, crocodile, tortoise, etc.).
  2. Today we are only going to be focusing on a group called the squamates, which include snakes and lizards.  Write the word on the board and have the class repeat the word ‘squamate’ (pronounced skwah-mate), which means “scaly.”  Show the images of snakes and lizards again. 
  3. There are many different kinds of snakes and lizards in the world.  Have the students guess how many. 
  4. There are over 8,000 kinds of snakes and lizards, and they are very diverse. They look different, they move differently, they eat different things, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. 
  5. Today we are going to compare the lengths of 8 different squamates, and learn how some of these animals move and eat. 


  1. Pass out the tape measures and the yarn to each student group.  Explain that the rope we have shows the lengths of different snakes and lizards, but that all of the animals have gotten mixed up!  It will be up to the class to figure out which animal belongs at each length.
    • The first 4 squamates are less than 1 meter.  These are the ones we will concentrate on for this portion of the activity. 
    • Introduce the measuring tape to the students.  Take a look at the numbers on it, where ‘0’ is, where ‘100’ is, etc.  Introduce metric units such as centimeter and meter. 
    • Choose one of the first 4 squamates, for example, the panther chameleon.  Explain that the panther chameleon is 45 cm (1.5 feet).  Have students look for the number 45 on the tape measure.  Explain that if you were to put the nose of the panther chameleon at ‘0’, ask it to sit on the measuring tape and stretch out its tail, the end of the tail would be at ’45 cm’.  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length at the tail end.
    • Model measuring another of the smaller snakes and lizards, for example the blue gecko.  Explain that it is 10cm (4 inches) long.  Ask the students which of the colored pieces of tape is at 4 cm.  Explain that if you were to put the nose of the blue gecko at ‘0’, ask it to sit on the measuring tape and stretch out its tail, the end of the tail would be at the ’10 cm’.  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
    • Choose another squamate, for example, the paradise flying snake.  Tell the students that its length is represented by the 4th colored piece of tape.  Have the students measure to the 4th colored tape to determine the length of the paradise flying snake (91cm (3 feet)).  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
    • Do the same with the last of the smaller squamates, in this case, the green basilisk.  Tell the students that its length is represented by the 3rd colored piece of tape.  Have the students measure to the 3rd colored tape to determine the length of the green basilisk (76 cm (2.5 feet)). Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
  2. If you are not at a location large enough for the remainder of this activity, you may wish to move there now. 
  3. Start back at the end of the yarn with the colored tape for the smallest squamate, and then make your way through each of the 8 different snakes and lizards in order, stopping at each one to either share a fun fact, or have the kids move in a particular way.  The first 4 have been measured and labeled already.  This is an opportunity now for students to learn more about these first 4 squamates, and then do some estimating with the measuring rope for the last four squamates.  See talking points for each animal below:
    • Blue gecko:  Geckos have millions of tiny ‘hairs’ on their toe pads that help them cling to surfaces and allow them to walk up and down things that are almost vertical or even upside down.  Have the students imagine that they have these tiny hairs, and imagine that they can crawl up and down and upside down.  Have students share with each other – where would they go if they had this ability?
    • Panther chameleon: Chameleons move very slowly.  Read the card and imitate how chameleons move – slow, deliberate movements, moving hand over hand.  They also have toes on both sides of their feet, so they can grasp a branch just like you might grab a baseball bat. Have students mirror your slow movements.  Chameleons also have a long, sticky tongue that is effective for capturing insects.  Students can imitate how chameleons use their long, sticky tongue, by curling one arm close to their face, and then extending it out quickly (away from others so they don’t bump into each other) to ‘catch’ an insect.  Chameleons can also move their eyes independently from each other.  Students can swivel their hands at each eye to pretend to move each eye independently, looking for insects to eat, and watching out for predators.
    • Green basilisk:  The green basilisk has large hind legs with long toes with  fringes of skin in between that spread out and help them run on the surface of water.  The students can pretend to be green basilisks, and run fast ‘over water’ for a distance you determine. 
    • Paradise flying snake:  The paradise snake doesn’t actually fly but can glide from tree to tree.  Students can pretend to flatten their bodies, and then move their bodies in an ‘S’-like motion to mimic how this snake moves through the air. 
    • Water monitor:  The water monitor is 1.5 meters (5 feet) – almost as long as a person is tall!  Water monitors move  relatively fast for their size.  Have students put their hands and feet on the ground and have them move quickly like a lizard (See video references below).  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
    • Eastern diamondback rattlesnake:  The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake measures 2.4 meters (8 feet) on the tape!  Rattlesnakes are venomous and have a rattle at the end of their body that they can use to warn predators of their presence.  Students can shake their ‘tail’ back and forth and make a rattle sound.  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
    • Komodo dragon:  The Komodo dragon is twice as long as the water monitor – 3 meters (10 feet)!  Which piece of tape do you think is the length of the Komodo dragon?  Komodo dragons are slow-moving lizards.  Have students put their hands and their feet on the ground and walk slowly like a lizard.  To be most realistic, they should splay their arms and legs at an angle away from their sides and walk, rather than keeping their limbs extended below their body like a dog or cat.  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.
    • Green anaconda:  The last piece of tape is for the green anaconda.  They can grow to be 10 meters (33 feet) long!  Green anacondas are large slow-moving snakes and are known to be good swimmers. When most people think of how snakes move, they think of an ‘S’-shaped movement over the ground.  However, many larger snakes like green anacondas move more like an inchworm, although their bodies don’t arch nearly as much (if at all).  Have the students mimic this movement by putting their hands and feet on the ground.  They can walk their hands forward, keeping their feet planted, then walk their feet up to their hands.  Have them walk their hands forward again, letting their feet follow only after they have planted their hands.  Have the students attach the appropriate animal card to this length.


Keeping answers open-ended, discuss with the students:
  • What do you notice about the sizes of different snakes and lizards?
  • How are snakes and lizards different?  How are they similar?  Do they all move the same way?  Do they all eat the same way?
  • What surprised you about this activity?

  • Tell students that they can visit the California Academy of Sciences, and see many different kinds of snakes and lizards.  Opening May 7, 2011 and running through September 5, 2011, the Academy’s newest exhibit will be Snakes and Lizards: The Summer of Slither, which will feature many of the squamates in this lesson, plus many more.



  • American Museum of Natural History. (2006). Lizards & Snakes: Alive! Educator’s Guide www.amnh.org/lizards


California Content Standards


Life Sciences

  • 2a. Students know how to observe and describe similarities and differences in the appearance and behavior of plants and animals (e.g., seed-bearing plants, birds, fish, insects).

Grade One

Life Sciences

  • 2a. Students know different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.

Grade Two

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 4e. Measure length, weight, temperature, and liquid volume with appropriate tools and express those measurements in standard metric system units.

Grade Three

Life Sciences

  • 3b. Students know examples of diverse life forms in different environments, such as oceans, deserts, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 5c. Use numerical data in describing and comparing objects, events, and measurements.

Grade Four

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 6b. Measure and estimate the weight, length, or volume of objects.

Grade Five

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 6f. Select appropriate tools (e.g., thermometers, meter sticks, balances, and graduated cylinders) and make quantitative observations.



What is a reptile?

Reptiles are vertebrates that belong to the Class Reptilia.  They are cold blooded, or ectothermic, which means their body temperature is not regulated by internal mechanisms. For humans, our normal body temperature is approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But in reptiles, their internal temperature is dependent on the temperature of their surroundings.  This is why you might see a snake or lizard sunning itself on a rock.

  • All reptiles have three-chambered hearts, except crocodiles, which have four-chambered hearts (2 atria, 2 ventricles), like mammals and birds. Reptiles have well-developed lungs from birth and breathe air. Most of them have two lungs, except some snakes which have a single lung.
  • Scales and scutes make up the outer layer of their skin, which is dry and has high levels of keratin, to help protect the body and prevent water loss through the skin.  Most reptiles that have two sets of paired limbs have five clawed toes on each foot. In some reptiles, like snakes and worm lizards, the legs are absent.
  • Reptiles were the first animals with amniotic eggs that are laid on land and not in water. Their eggs have leathery protective shells and membranes that allow oxygen and other gases to pass through. Not all reptiles lay eggs; some give birth to live young from eggs hatched inside the body of the mother.
  • Reptiles have keen sense organs which help them find food and escape predators. Eyes are one of the most important sense organ and in most reptiles, they are located at the front of the head for binocular vision.

The focus of this activity is on a particular group of reptiles called squamates (pronounced skwah-mates).

What is a squamate?

Squamata means “scaly” in Latin.  Squamates include lizards, worm lizards, and snakes, which are sometimes called limbless lizards. This group of reptiles is one of the most successful among vertebrates.  There are 8,000 known species of squamates and they live in diverse habitats including rivers, lakes, seas, treetops, deserts and mountain ranges. Like other reptiles, squamates are cold-blooded and cannot generate body heat on their own, so cold temperatures are a limiting factor of where they can survive.

From fossil evidence, we know the first squamates appeared over 200 million years ago, most likely as small predators that lived on the ground.  Over time, squamates have evolved unique adaptations that allow them to survive in a variety of diverse habitats.  For example, while many squamates have well-developed limbs some do not.  The absence of limbs in squamates such as snakes, may allow them to easily navigate narrow underground tunnels and burrows. Why might it be an advantage to live underground?  Many squamates live in underground burrows to escape predators, help regulate their body temperature by avoiding intense heat during the day and cold temperatures at night, and have a safe place in which to lay their eggs.

Geckos and chameleons are lizards that have evolved special adaptations for life in the trees. Geckos’ toe pads are covered with millions of tiny hairs (setae) that allow them to climb vertical surfaces and even cling upside-down! Scientists are still trying to fully understand exactly how geckos accomplish this. Chameleons’ feet are highly modified for grasping tree branches.


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