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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Common Lizard.Lacerta vivipara

Before we review the species in question -What are lizards? The distinguishing characters of the lizard as as follows. The tongue is slender, extensile and forming two filiments or branches at the tip, as in various species of snake. They all move at speed, however, in this respect there are considerable differences between them.

They have five toes on each of their feet, three to their bases of unequal length, more especially on their hind feet and all are furnished with hooked claws. The feet are nearly all of equal length. Under each thigh there is a range of small porous scaly tubercles.

There bodies are elongated and the scales on the belly and tail are arranged in transverse bands. The tympanum { ear drum} is on the same level as the head, or only a little raised. a production of skin, in which there is an opening, which acts like a sphincter { a ring of muscle surrounding and serving to guard or close and opening} protects the eye by acting in the manner of a third lid.

The false ribs do not extend entirely around the body so as to form a complete circle. The opening of the ear is oval and very conspicuous, but there is not an elevated crest either on the back or head. The tail is at least as long as the body, it is cylindrical in form and composed of jointed rings with no upper crest.

To the uninitiated observer a reptile is a snake or a creature that crawls upon its belly, and is commonly thought to be legless. A reptile is a cold blooded vertebrate having scales or plates over its body in the place of feathers or fur as in other animals.They breathe by lungs throughout their lives as opposed to amphibians, that breathe with the aid of gills in their aquatic stage of their lives. 

However, the existence of legs is not sufficient distinction between what is or what is not a lizard. For instance the slow-worm  appears to be legless and more like a snake, even though it is a lizard. the slow-worm also has moveable eyelids, which true snakes lack.

Unfortunately the representation of reptiles in the UK is poor when one knows that there are nearly 4000 different known species of reptiles in the world of which 2000 are lizards.

The species under review here is the Common Lizard or the Viviparous lizard. Lacerta vivipara formerly known by the Latin name of Zootoca vivipara. 

The common Lizard.

Photograph courtesy of Rob Williams { Froglife}

Description of the Common Lizard.

The "Common" Lizard is so named because its distribution is more expansive than other species. I have put the word common in inverted  comma's for it is something of a misnomer, for this lizard is not common as one would refer to creatures such as the rabbit or chaffinch for instance, which may be accepted as being truly common.

The common lizard is more common in some regions and completely absent in others, so, perhaps a more apt title would be the Local lizard. One may travel many miles, indeed some will go through a lifetime and never see a common lizard in the wild. However, it is the only species that seems to have taken to Ireland.

The species name vivipara indicates bearing live young and alludes to the fact that the female retains her eggs until they are fully developed and ready to hatch, so that the young are born free from the egg membrane or the membrane breaks immediately after they leave her body.

Common lizard eating a wolf spider.

Photograph courtesy of Rob Williams via FrogLife.

The colouring of the common lizard may vary but is chiefly found to be a dull brown, although they may appear bronze, yellow, grey green, red and black. Males are darker than the females.A dark stripe extends from the back of the head to the base of the tail.

Males and females may be told apart from their bellies. Female bellies are pale with no spots,however, female belly colouring may also vary , it may be yellowish, grey green, and occasionally orange with few or no spots. Male bellies are yellow/orange with black spots.

Adults are about 11cm {just under 4 and a half inches} long but exceptionally up to 18cm { seven and a quarter inches} . Sexes {with the exception of the belly mentioned above} are similar, the tail of the male comprises two thirds of total body length, slightly less in females.  They can not be mistaken for any other creature in the UK  with the possible exception of the newt. generally speaking if it moves fast it is a lizard for newts are sluggish on land.

Lifestyle of the common lizard.

Generally speaking, this reptile prefers dry, sunny bank sides, open pastures and grasslands, which are south facing, to shady places. it certainly courts sandy hillsides and such exposed areas rather than low lying, damp ground. During the summer heat the lizard may be observed basking in the sunny  rays in such chosen localities, and, only moving now and then to snap some unwary blue bottle or other fly that may stray to close.

Although many species of insects are devoured greedily in their season by the lizard, nature appears to have been very lavish in arranging its larder, beetles, flies of every kind, caterpillars, moths, butterflies and aquatic creatures are all taken.

Common lizards often take to water to catch food such as insects that have become trapped by the surface film. Lizards are surprisingly good swimmers. they can even dive under water for several minutes.

Breeding and Young----lizards emerge from hibernation in March { in mild southern counties of England they may be active all year round, if conditions remain favourable} , males usually emerge a few weeks before the females. Mating occurs between April and May.

The young emerge immediately from the membranous eggs as they leave their mothers body if this has not already occurred  before emergence, thus the young are " really " born alive as is the case with the adder. The young are fully developed, and, having the full use of their limbs at birth, they can follow their parents instinctively these youngsters catch insects on their own account as soon as they are born. the young are darker and do not acquire the colour of the adult until the following year.

Protection

Photograph by Rob Williams via FrogLife of female common lizard basking.

Common Lizards are protected by law in Great Britain under the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 {as amended} against killing, injury,or sold or traded in any way. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected, this prohibits the killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance and possession or trade.

Reuse of images.

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