Lizard patterns

See the colorful patterns of spots and stripes of the side blotched lizard. Learn to draw the patterns or generate them with code.

Play with our model of lizard spots and stripes. This is a minor variation on a more general model of pattern formation on animal skin, as we describe on our page on spots and stripes.

Below left is a young Ocellated lizard. Below right is a closeup of an older one.

Some lizards have spots when they are young but lose the spots as they get older. Here’s a very simple toy model (click here) of this process.

Our model starts with this pattern, representing the scales of a young Ocellated lizard.

The spots diffuse as the lizard ages, as in this example from toy model of this process.

From the big-picture view, see  lizards play an ecological rock-paper-scissors (click to see model in Scratch). The Common Side-Blotched Lizard comes in three varieties, the Orange throats, Blue throats, and Yellow throats. Each type dominates one other type. This creates very interesting oscillating dynamics.

See and plot the oscillations in numbers of each of the three types with our NetLogo model of the lizards.

In one of our Beautiful Discovery Boxes, we have fun with lizards, cutting out lizard tiles and coloring the spots. Play with our musical lizard tiles in Scratch. When you click or touch a lizard (on your computer or phone screen), a wave spreads in an expanding circle, visible as color change.

Each lizard also plays a musical note as the wave spreads. The central lizard plays the lowest note and more distant ones play higher and higher notes. This model is really just for fun, but shows you one way to include music and visual effects in your Scratch code.


Jigsaw Lizards

Our Beautiful Discovery Box on lizards and shells contains much more, including art lessons on drawing the spots and stripes, and materials for Escher Lizard Tiles. 

The lizard tiles, or tessellations, show several different kinds of symmetry, including translational symmetry, rotational symmetry, and glide symmetry.

This is a pattern of shapes that interlock with no gaps, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Mathematicians and artists call the shapes “motifs” and the patterns “tessellations.” Motifs that work easily as tessellations, leaving no gaps between, include squares, triangles and hexagons. This lizard tessellation has an underlying hexagonal tessellation, but with variants that still fit together so long as you rotate the tiles to fit. To make this work, Escher used a combination of different symmetries.  You will see in our Scratch code (click “see inside to see the drag and drop block code) exactly how this tessellation can work, because to program the tessellations to line up, you have to know exactly how to line up the tiles to create a jigsaw pattern that fits with no gaps.  

We modeled the above lizards after a famous tessellation by Escher (1898-1972), but we designed the shapes or motifs more like the three variants of the Common Side-Blotched Lizard.