The common lizard

David Chapman / 24 September 2015

David Chapman introduces the common lizard, one of the UK's most common reptiles and one which you might see basking in your garden.



British reptiles

Around the world there are some 3,000 different species of lizard but in mainland Britain we have only three native species: the common lizard, sand lizard and slow worm which, being legless, looks more like a snake than a lizard. Lizards are different to snakes because they have the ability to shed their tail and they have eye lids.

Where and when to spot the common lizard

Lizards and snakes are all reptiles, as such they are cold blooded and need to bask in the sun to warm up. Interestingly the common lizard will flatten itself when basking so that a greater proportion of its upper body surface is influenced by the sun. 

In September, British reptiles need to bask for longer periods than they do in mid-summer so this is a great time of year to look for them. There are also many more of them than in the spring, provided they have had a good breeding season.

There is every chance of seeing lizards in gardens which are connected to the countryside. To encourage them it is a good idea to grow taller plants such as heather around rock piles in warm sunny spots.

Reptiles can sense vibration in the ground so will often scuttle away before we see them but common lizards do have the habit of returning to the same spot only a few minutes after being disturbed, so patience is often rewarded.

About the common lizard

Lizards in warmer parts of the world lay eggs but our common lizard has evolved to carry the eggs for longer, thus providing the heat they need for incubation, and only lays them when they are about to hatch. 

By this stage the eggs have flimsy membranes and the young break free immediately, leading to the belief that they gave birth to live young and hence their alternative name ‘viviparous lizard’ (viviparous originating from the Latin words vivus, to be alive, and pario, to give birth).

Common lizards are widespread in the UK, they favour rough ground with longer vegetation and enjoy sunny spots with rocks and logs on which to bask. They are excellent climbers so don't be surprised to see one on top of a post but they always like to be close to vegetation into which they can escape.

Find out how to create a reptile-friendly garden.

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