Species of the month

Species of the Month: Common Lizard

Common Lizard - Chris Rowland

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Our Species of the Month species surveys are an important way you can help us.  Records are sent to DERC (Dorset Environmental Records Centre) who collate this information to build up a picture of the of the state of Dorset's wildlife. So please help us help wildlife by filling in the form below. Thank you!

Species of the Month: Common Lizard

Scientific Name: Zootoca vivipara

Identification

The common lizard is one of only three lizard species native to the UK. Along with slow worms they are the lizards you are most likely to encounter in parks and gardens. Sand lizards, the third native species, are rare and only found on heathland and sand dunes. 

Although variable in colour, common lizards are usually brown with dark spots or stripes. sand lizards have ‘ocellate’ spots which are black with a white centre. 

Common lizards are also smaller (length 10-15cm) and less ‘stocky’ than sand lizards (length 20cm). 

Newts, when seen on land, sometimes get mistaken for lizards. Lizards, however, have scaly rather than velvety skin and also move more quickly if disturbed.

Diet

Common lizards hunt spiders and insects by sight and smell. 

Behaviour

Being ‘cold blooded’, lizards need heat from the sun to warm their muscles. Look out for them ‘sunbathing’ on low shrubs, rocks and logs on warm, sunny days between March and October.  

Common lizards are also known as the 'viviparous lizard’ as, rather than laying eggs, they ‘give birth’ to live young. The dark brown baby lizards are ‘born’ in July and are only 2.5cm long.  

Did you know?

  • The species name ‘vivipara’ comes from the latin ‘viviparous’ which means live birth.  
  • Predators include birds of prey, foxes, cats and large birds such as crows. 
  • If attacked, the common lizard will shed its tail. Amazingly the detached tail will continue to wriggle which distracts the predator from the escaping lizard! The tail will grow back, but tends to be shorter.  
  • Common lizards are the only reptile native to Ireland. 
  • Although widespread, common lizards are threatened by habitat loss and disturbance. They are protected under Wildlife and Countryside Act, which means it is illegal to sell, trade, injure or kill a common lizard. 

Where can they be found?

Across many habitats including heathland, grassland, moorland, woodland and gardens. 

If you walk slowly, you might be lucky enough to spot common lizards basking on logs, open grass or stones. If they dash away to cover, just wait quietly and they may return to their basking spot. 

Wildlife Gardening Tips

If you are very lucky you may find common lizards in your garden. There will be a greater chance if you live near heathland and if you provide areas of dry, dense cover for shelter and sunny dry areas for basking in. 

You can also help by ensuring there are plenty of insects and spiders on your ‘garden menu’. 

Species of the Month sightings form

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