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. 

Common Lizard 

Image courtesy of Charles J Sharp    CC BY-SA 4.0 license

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.


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.

Another shot of the common lizard

Charles J Sharp CC BY-SA 4.0 license

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.

Common Lizard basking 

Courtesy of BableStone    CC BY-SA 3.0 license


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.

The images on this page may be reused.However, the name of the relevant author must be attributed along with any accompanying license.

An Historical perception.


It is always interesting to look back at earlier times to see the perception of our wildlife before the great change,s to our countryside and its denizens,

occurred which would change our countryside forever, after the second world war.

The following text was taken from a book printed in 1913, by A. Nicol. It is not in copyright and the text is courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

" As a student and collector of natural objects, my mind can hark back, to a May morning when the whinchats and a few redstarts had taken up residence in our garden policies. Although within a month of midsummer the trees looked gloomy and the beech hedge that led to the kitchen-garden was still bare of foliage. That year it was late in May before we heard the first cuckoo in our woods, and the season was spoken has a 'backward one', by Hodge and his servants. But when the first wood warbler appeared in the garden, some days of warm sunshine intervened, and the Viviparous Lizard, dozing on the sandy bank told of summer as true as the martins at the sandy-pit.  Uncongenial although the season was, the Viviparous Lizard, had come out from its cranny in the rock garden, and rested under a canopy formed by the dead fern fronds from a past year."

" This Lizard is frequently termed 'Common Lizard', from the fact that its distribution is perhaps the most extensive of all our native species. While I say this, it must be remembered that Lizards are not common in the sense that one would speak of other creatures in the wild.  The naturalist uses the word 'common', with a lavishness, that is often somewhat misleading. For instance, rabbits, partridges {partridges are no longer common} and house flies may be spoken of may be acknowledged as being truly common in their respective habitats; but in applying the word to any or all of the species of Lizards indigenous to the British Isles is somewhat of a misnomer"

" Strictly  speaking, Lizards are not common. They are more common in some quarters than others, and hence might be more correctly spoken of as local.Taking into account of our sea-girt Isles, the lizards occupy but a very tiny proportion, and that in a very patchy pattern. One may travel many miles without seeing any Lizard at all of any kind. Strange to say this is the only reptile that has taken kindly to Irish soil. During the mid-summer heat this lizard may be seen basking in the suns rays in such chosen localities, and only moving now and again to snap up some unwary bluebottle or other fly that might alight within easy distance"

" It is agile in all its movements, and a keen eye is requisite to detect it when it is hunting for food. it also calls for a very active hand to catch the darting reptile and to keep the little body uninjured in its grasp. He who would capture this reptile must be careful to grasp the forepart of its body; if he seizes it by the tail, he will probably be chargrined in finding a proportion of the appendage in his hand while the unabashed lizard scutters away to a safe hiding place. Like the slow-worm and other lizards, this species readily parts with its tail, the loss of which is repaired in time."

The above text is only a small proportion of the author's chapter on the Viviparous lizard. To Read more visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library and search for the book 'British amphibians and Reptiles', in the search box provided on the site. 


Sand Lizard 

Image courtesy of Krzysztof Mizera CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Jaszczurka.jpg

Historical perception of the sand Lizard



" For many years this species was often confused with the former species. The Sand Lizard favours sand , no doubt, and hence its popular name. Seldom or never is it found in mountainous districts,although quite a number of the higher ranges  of higher hills seem quite inviting as an habitat. However, the Sand lizard has a very limited area,and, in Britain, would appear to be confined to southern England. { Although still largely restricted to southern England it is now known to occur in coastal sand dunes of north west England and Wales}. 

"  Even in counties such as Surrey and Dorset, and perhaps adjacent counties its distribution is very local. In length the Sand Lizard is from seven to nine inches. It has a shortish head and blunt nose. The keels over the back are angular and well Keeled. The tail is rather heavy looking, and is about half as long again than the head and body. Forelegs almost quarter as long as the body, and the hind ones half as long. The upper parts are coloured olive- brown, with a light green colouring beneath, usually marked with black dots. The male is usually a more intense green than the female, both are marked with dark spots and blotches. The female as a rule has three rows of dull brown spots along its side, and these spots look duller towards their centre."

" The young are generally pale brown on the upper portions, with lighter spots. The latter are duller in tint towards the margins. On the under parts a uniform white or grey prevails. These young are hatched from eggs, which thus, makes the species oviparous. The eggs are laid in mid-summer, in some sandy bed, and left to the atmospheric influences of the season. Like other reptiles this species sleeps during the colder months of the year. It feeds on all manner of insects,and, provides food itself for snakes,especially the smooth snake."

" They can hear the slightest sound,and have keen vision. Their security relies in quick flight not in warfare.They are extremely nimble and run along the ground in a jerky fashion" 


UK Mainland species

On the UK mainland there are three species of lizard that are native The two reviewed above and the slow-worm  To view the Slow-worm visit the content banners above. Click on the relevant box and scroll down to view.


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