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Common lizard

If you spot a lizard in your garden the chances are it is going to be a Common or “Viviparous” Lizard, the most regularly occurring lizard in the British Isles. They can be found in a wide range of habitats from heathlands, woodlands and hedgerows to gardens and urban wastelands.

A male viviparous lizard

Image via Wikipedia

Identification

One of three Lizard species in Britain, the fully grown adults of this species typically measure 15-16cm, with males and females having distinctive coloured markings. Adults range from light to dark greys and browns. The male is often darker than the female but both have a dark central stripe running along the length of the spine which is bordered with yellow or white patches.

Lizards have short limbs and long fingers and toes, a characteristic that can be used to separate a lizard from a Newt. Males tend to have a slimmer body than females; both have rounded heads and a scaly appearance. The best way to tell a male from a female is to check out the ventral surface, or the underside. Males have brightly coloured orange or yellowish undersides heavily marked with dark spots. In contrast the females will appear dull grey or greenish with few or no spots. The young which are born in July and measure 4cm long are dark brown or black, often with the tail a slightly darker shade than the body.

Overview

 The Common Lizard is a very wide ranging reptile found from Northern Asia right across to central and Northern Europe and is the only reptile species to be found naturally occurring in Ireland. Interestingly the way that this species reproduces differs depending on the climate. In warm areas such as Asia they lays eggs from which the young hatch, in cooler countries such as hear in Britain they give birth to live young.

The Common Lizard hibernates in small groups under log piles or in holes in the ground from October to March to avoid our cold winters. The males are the first to wake from their slumber followed a couple of weeks later by the females. Mating occurs from April to May and the young are born three months later. At two years old the males are mature enough to mate, whilst the females reach breeding age at three. They feed mainly on invertebrates including small insects and spiders.

The common Lizard like other reptiles is cold blooded, requiring heat from the sun to gain energy for hunting. They achieve this by basking in open sunny locations such as on a rock, log or wall that is close enough to a safe hideaway should they be disturbed or threatened by a predator. As with other Lizards the Common Lizard is able to dislocate and loose its tail if grabbed by a hungry predator, it can then escape to grow a new tail.

male

Image via Wikipedia

In the Garden

Common Lizards occur in many gardens provided they have a suitable area for basking in the sun, a safe place to hide from predators and a suitable food supply. Even if you provide all of these requirements it will be a rare event to spot anything more than the tail end of fleeing Lizard. However if you quietly keep a close eye on rocks, logs and low walls during sunny periods from March to October you may be able to work out where their favourite resting spots are. They will often return to these positions time after time so you could set up a hide or watch from a window with a pair of binoculars in order to get a longer glimpse.

Log piles, areas of long grass, small dry stone walls and rockeries are ideal ways to accommodate for these elusive reptiles. A metal, plastic or felt sheet can also provide a good hideaway or sun bathing spot. Unfortunately they are always alert and may be off long before you lift the sheet to have a look.

Did you know?

The offspring of the Common Lizard are encased in a thin protective membrane for several hours after birth. They are born with a sharp egg-tooth which helps them to cut their way out.

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