Abstract We evaluate the hypothesis, originally proposed for arid Australia, that abundant and diverse termite assemblages can promote lizard radiation, based on a reappraisal of published data and on new data from the Cerrado biome in central Brazil. We found a positive correlation between termite and lizard richness in Cerrado. However, termite abundance and richness cannot actively drive lizard speciation, but can be important in maintaining lizard richness. Cerrado shares with arid Australia a rich and abundant termite fauna, but local Cerrado lizard assemblages are relatively impoverished. We suggest that differences in lizard richness between Cerrado and arid Australia may be explained by a combination of variations in area and latitude controlling speciation rates and present-day ecological factors moderating extinction rates.