Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara)

Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara)The common lizard, Ireland’s only reptile, can often be seen sunning itself on dry stone walls, rocks or logs during the summer months. These animals occupy a range of habitats, including woodland, marshes, heath, moors, bogs, sand-dunes and even rubbish dumps.

Lizards are active, alert and extremely quick. Their colouration helps them to blend with their surroundings, and they can disappear into a crevice or under a stone with startling speed at the first sign of disturbance.

Common lizards are usually between 10cm and 16cm (4 inches and 6 inches) long, although larger specimens can reach 18cm (7 inches). They have long bodies, short legs and a long, tapering tail. The coarse, dry scales on the lizard’s back can be a variety of colours including grey, brown, copper or green, with a black stripe running down the centre of the back, and a scattering of black spots over the body. Male lizards have orange-yellow bellies with black spots, while females have creamy white bellies usually without spots.

Reptiles, unlike birds and mammals, have no internal temperature regulation system. They rely on the characteristics of their environment and on their patterns of behaviour to control their internal temperature. When they are too cold they bask in the sun, if they get too warm they move into the shade.

Lizards can typically be found basking on sunny days in the morning or the afternoon, but not generally during the middle of the day, when they are in danger of overheating. After cooling overnight, a lizard needs to increase its body temperature to somewhere in the region of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) before it can hunt effectively. They eat insects, spiders, slugs, snails and earthworms: pouncing on their prey and stunning it by shaking before swallowing it whole.

Because they rely on the sun’s heat to remain active, lizards are forced to hibernate through the Irish winter. They disappear around October and hibernate until the following March, often in groups, occasionally emerging during warmer spells.

After coming out of hibernation in spring male lizards establish a breeding territory and defend it vigorously against other males. Breeding takes place from March to May. Common lizards are viviparous, which means that the young develop within egg membranes inside the female’s body.

After about three months the female lizard will give birth to live, fully developed young that break free of the egg-membranes usually during birth or a few seconds afterwards. Litters consist of 2-12 young born from June to September. Females show no parental care: the young feed actively from birth and quickly disperse.

Lizards can be eaten by larger predators, but as they are active only during the day they rarely encounter nocturnal threats like foxes and badgers. They are taken by birds of prey (they typically form part of the kestrel’s diet), and stoats and mink will kill them if they can catch them. Domestic cats pose a real problem for lizards, especially early in the day before they reach full operating temperature. When they are cold the reptiles are sluggish and are easy prey for an inquisitive feline.

To redress the balance somewhat lizards have an intriguing escape mechanism that allows them to evade predators. If caught by the tail, lizards have the ability to shed the lower portion, leaving a bemused predator with a twitching stump while the lizard makes good its escape. If it survives the encounter the lizard will soon grow a new tail.

About Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones is a freelance writer, author, birder and lifelong wildlife enthusiast. He is founder and managing editor of IrelandsWildlife.com. He is also the tour leader and wildlife guide on our West Cork based Discover Wildlife tours.
Calvin is also co-author of bestselling digital marketing titles and offers digital business consulting services and training through Digital Marketing Success

Comments

  1. Michael Devlin says:

    I just saw two lizards in my garden laying under an outside light this evening around 10pm, I live in the divis mountain area of Belfast

    • James Matthews says:

      I live in south Florida, USA. It’s like Jurassic Park here. Wish I could see an Irish lizard though.

  2. Emily Fitzgerald says:

    Found 1 lizard inside the house yesterday about 4pm, all curled up in a corner. Ardfield in West Cork.

  3. Lizard spotted in Ennis, Clare

  4. Bet o Mahony says:

    Lizard strolled into our house today at lunch time. My 11 year son Dara well impressed. Iv never seen one before and im living on this area a long time. Ballyheigue co. kerry.

  5. Gerry mahon says:

    Found a male lizard today under timber logs I’m splitting up.he played dead as its not cold its actually very warm.going to show him to my grand child then let him out in a safe spot.Oldcastle co Meath.

  6. We found one today in our glass house. He was lovely! Orange belly, very docile. We live in south Leitrim

  7. Lizard came into our bathroom hidden in the mop today in Athlone first time to see one in this area

  8. I let the dog out this evening in the dark with a torch, spotted a tiny baby lizzard on a concrete edge of our shed. Very cute! I have been living here for 20 years, first time spotting one. This is in Roundwood, co Wicklow. Will be looking out for adult ones.

  9. any where near bangor can they be found

    • Quite probably Darren, although I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you where. It’s a fair old trek from the West Cork coast ;-).

      Ask around locally — I’m sure someone who’s into their wildlife will be able to give you a few pointers.

  10. A lizard came into our house but it was black, not light colored like in the photo. Lisheen, Kilkee, Co. Clare.

  11. Oliver Tully says:

    Hi just found a lizard tonight on the road in Four Mile House Roscommon, I show it to my kids the wanted to take it to school tomorrow!

  12. Had one this morning in the house…..Co mayo. Never seen one before anywhere!!

  13. Just had my first ever sighting of a lizard in Limerick today (previously saw one in W Cork). It was in walking across my kitchen floor. Dog sniffed it and left it alone but he looked like it was dying. Put it outside.

  14. Shereen Sutton says:

    Saw a small black lizard last night. He was in an outside porch under the light. Cahore, Co. Wexford.

  15. Patsy Moriarty says:

    Seen one today while out hiking on the Wicklow mountains.patsy

  16. Constantly finding them here in south Leitrim around our house (an old school that was abandoned for years) at least one every few months, sometimes two or tree together. but is there any chance that in good weather they would become non-viviparous? as on one occasion I found some tiny eggs under a woodpile, they were too small to be any bird but way to big to be any kind of insect egg… well I wouldn’t want to see the insect that could lay these things! It was a few years ago now and we had had a good warm, dry, summer.

    • Kim, they could possibly be snail eggs – Groups of small round white eggs usually underground but also under rocks and logs etc.

    • Hi Kim,

      Giving birth to live young is an adaptation to survive in a cooler climate… and while common lizards / viviparous lizards do lay eggs in the extreme south of their range (southern Europe), do lay eggs Irish lizards never do.

      Such an extreme physiological shift is something that’s likely to have evolved over a very long period of time — rather than a direct response to short-term environmental change (a hot summer for example), so I doubt very much that your lizards in south Leitrim are laying eggs.

      Will mentioned snail eggs, but they’d be far too small to ever confuse with lizard eggs. Which begs the question what are they?

      Do you have a photograph?

  17. Cilla says:

    Hi my cat caught a magnificent lizard today I was shocked never knew they existed in Ireland. It was deep green and it was missing end of tail probably because of the cat. We released it back hope it survives. (Galway)

  18. peadar says:

    Just picked one off the road in Spanish point green with black tail

  19. Eileen says:

    Found a small lizard under my rabbits water dish we took photos before returning it to the wild kids disappointed they couldn’t bring it in to school I’m sure the teacher would have been impressed

  20. Hiking in Wicklow Mountains (Big Sugarloaf) saw one in midday sun hidden in the gorse. Speedy fellow!

  21. Sunny day in Killasser co Mayo just seen a common lizard run in the door had the same thing 2 years ago

  22. Seen one Horn Head, Co Donegal

  23. Malachy Mangan says:

    Lizard strolling near the back door of our house in Daingean Offaly today. Little beauty.

  24. Kim farrell says:

    SUNDAY @ 11:30PM ONE OF MY CATS HAVE BROUGHT IN A YOUNG LIZARD INTO MY KITCHEN.VERY SMALL,LENGTH OF MY THUMB.GOING TO SHOW MY NEPHEW NEXT DOOR IN THE MORNING.

  25. Just saw one laying on the path in kill co. Kildare at 8:30PM, barely moving,placed it in the grass and it started to move

  26. Siobhan Dwyer says:

    We found a common lizard at the weekend actually thought it was a toy as we didn’t know any existed in Ireland. We live in Durrow, Co.Laois

  27. Doug Doodes says:

    Hi, just saw today about 3.30pm in the back garden. I was sitting out and he came right up to me and was under the chair for about 10 minutes. Lovely looking creature. first time i saw one here since we came to this area 15 years. We live in Co. Sligo. along the N17 – 2 miles on Sligo side of Tubbercurry.

Trackbacks

  1. […] In the hot seat this week, as it’s lizard season, it’s the common lizard. […]

  2. […] According to the scientific literature, where it is often known under its former Latin name of Lacerta vivipara, the species is widespread in the British Isles except for mountainous parts of Scotland, and it is the only lizard in Ireland. […]

  3. […] According to the scientific literature, where it is often known under its former Latin name of Lacerta vivipara, the species is widespread in the British Isles except for mountainous parts of Scotland, and it is the only lizard in Ireland. […]

  4. […] According to the scientific literature, where it is often known under its former Latin name of Lacerta vivipara, the species is widespread in the British Isles except for mountainous parts of Scotland, and it is the only lizard in Ireland. […]

  5. […] According to the scientific literature, where it is often known under its former Latin name of Lacerta vivipara, the species is widespread in the British Isles except for mountainous parts of Scotland, and it is the only lizard in Ireland. […]

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