By Lizzy Dening
The Common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) is, as the name suggests, widespread through Britain. Smaller and faster-moving than its relative the Sand lizard, Common lizards are between 10-15cm long, with narrow, pointed heads. Whilst colouration can be variable, typically they are dark or grey-brown, with dark streaks down the body, and white or reddish blotches. To sex Common lizards, it is necessary to view their undersides, as the male has a bright yellow, speckled belly, whilst the female’s is paler and unblemished.
Common lizards can be seen in a wide variety of habitats, such as woodlands, hedgerows, heathland, the banks of ditches and even your own back garden. It is the only species of reptile which is native to Ireland. As with other reptiles, a cheap method to check an area for Common lizards is to leave a metal tray or tin in a warm area, as lizards will often use these to bask on during the spring. They may even use a tray to shelter under in cool weather, or at night.
These cold-blooded creatures hibernate between October and March, in the same way as the Sand lizard, climbing into cracks between rocks and stones. As the weather warms up again in spring, they emerge to bask in the sun and recharge their energy for finding food, which common lizards will generally do once their body temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius. Their diet includes invertebrates such as earthworms, insects and snails, which they shake in their mouths to stun, before swallowing whole.
Once nicely fed, around April, a lizard’s thoughts will turn to breeding. The behaviour of pregnant Common lizards is fascinating, as they store fertilized eggs in their bodies until almost fully developed, when the young are released in the eggsac, which usually bursts during the birthing process. Such unusual behaviour has led to the Common lizard also being referred to as the Viviparous lizard, which means bearing live young. The young themselves are distinctly darker than their parents, and are around 4cm long.
Despite being wide-spread, like most native British wildlife, the Common lizard is declining in numbers due to a loss of wild spaces, with the building of more houses. However, the species is protected by law, and isn’t listed as endangered yet, so hopefully with encouraging garden features such as flat stones and logs for them to bask on, this needn’t ever be the case.