The Common Lizard (Zootoca Vivapara)

Common Lizard Photographed by David Chapman (saga.co.uk)

Common Lizard Photographed by David Chapman (saga.co.uk)

The Common Lizard (Zootoca (formerly Lacerta) Vivapara) is one of the most adaptable and widespread reptiles in Central and Northern Europe. In fact, unlike any other species, it can be found as far north as the Arctic Circle in Norway. With reptiles being almost exclusively ectothermic, seeing a lizard thrive in mostly cold climates is truly amazing. 

Adult Common Lizards are usually between 85-170mm with the thick tail accounting for approximately 2/3 of the lizard's length. Males are usually darker than females, sporting a more defined pattern of pale spots along the centre of their backs. However, in places such as Dorset in the UK, this already varied colour pattern is taken to a whole new level with some Common Lizards sporting a rather vibrant bright green. In these cases, they can easily (and are often) mistaken by Sand Lizards (Lacerta Agilis) in habitats where the two species occur. However, it is thought that this colouration is mostly due to lighting rather than actual pigmentation.

In his book 'Cold Blood: Adventures With Reptiles & Amphibians', Richard Kerridge discusses in extent the extremely varied colouration of these lizards. He also discusses how versatile they are when it comes to habitat. Although they are easily spotted in a variety of different habitats they seem to prefer some dampness and will often shy away from greater heats, retreating to shaded areas. They can even be found in meadows where not many pheasants are present. 

Common Lizards can be found in most of England and Wales and are widespread in Scotland with the exception of the Outer Hebrides and a few Western Isles. They are also the only reptile species found in Ireland at all. They are one of the first reptiles to appear in spring - sometimes as early as February if temperatures are mild - and usually, don't go into hibernation until November. 

Another testament to their adaptability is their ability to tolerate others of the same species. They rarely fight for territory and will often be spotted sunbathing in groups. When sunbathing, like many lizards, they will flatten their bodies and spread their legs - even turning the soles upside down to absorb as much heat as possible. 

They are extremely agile and are fast hunters. These lizards have excellent hearing and will often track their prey by sound alone. Although they get most of their water from the insects they eat, they will sometimes lap up droplets of water from rain or dew from leaves and stones. Speaking of their agility, although they are mostly terrestrial, they can be pretty good climbers, often found on garden fences and trees in search of that elusive sunny spot. 

Their courtship and mating usually starts in April and May with live young being born 3 months later. It is worth noting, however, that in some places in Spain and France, these Lizards will actually lay eggs that will hatch shortly after. The young are usually between 5-12mm in size and almost entirely black. They are also almost immediately fully independent from the parents, often fending for themselves less than a day after birth. 

Like many lizards, the Common Lizard is able to voluntarily shed its tail in order to escape predators. The new tail will start regenerating from where the vertebrae were severed but (as it is the case with most lizards) the new tail is never as 'nice' looking as the original. They also shed their skin in the same way that most lizards do. Unlike snakes, they shed a different part of their body at a time. This process occurs within a period of a few hours to a few days. Whilst they are growing, they can shed from 8-10 times during the summer months. 

Unfortunately, a lack of studies on wild species means we do not have an accurate measure of their lifespan. However, a study conducted in 1971 with 6 captive-bred young being raised in outdoor vivariums concluded that the majority lived up to 8 years with one living up to 10 years.

If you'd like to know more about the Common Lizard, I would highly recommend David C. Wareham's book published by the British Herpetological Society 'The Reptiles and Amphibians of Dorset'. You can also find a lot of information on similar species and compare their characteristics.