Common lizard

As its name suggests, the common lizard is the most common reptile in the UK and is Ireland’s only native reptile.


Photo by Iain LeachOrder: Squamata

Family: Lacertidae

Species: Zootoca vivipara

IUCN Red List Status:  Least concern.

Distribution:   Found in a wide range of habitats across the UK, except Channel Islands, Scilly Islands and Scottish islands.  Extremely widespread across northern, western, central and eastern Europe across most of northern Asia to China and Hokkaido Island, Japan.

Habitat:  Highly versatile and unfussy, found in woodland, grassland, heathland and moorland. Sometimes seen in gardens and on dry stone walls.

Life-span:  About 6 years.

Size:  Adults up to 15cm long including tail.  Weight: 5g.

Description:  Normally brown with stripes or spots, but can also be yellowish, green or completely black.  Males have yellow/ orange belly with black spots. Females have pale, unspotted belly. Very fast-moving when disturbed.

Food:  Invertebrates, such as insects, slugs and worms.

Photo by Iain Leach.

Common lizard habits

Adult lizards emerge from hibernation in early spring, with mating typically taking place during April.  Both sexes bask in patches of sunlight during the spring.

In common with other reptiles, common  lizards are ectothermic - they can’t generate their own body heat, so to warm themselves up, they have to bask in the sun or lie on a warm surface.  They become much more active when warm, but will retreat to the shade if the weather becomes too hot.

Like the adder, common lizards are ‘viviparous’ - they give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs.  Females incubate eggs inside their bodies, which is why they are often seen basking in the heat of summer sunshine - males are not.  In August, they give birth to between 4 and 11 live young, each measuring about 4 to 5cm long.

Common lizards spend the autumn feeding on invertebrates, which they stun by shaking them violently before swallowing them.

They often hibernate in groups among rocks or dead wood between November and March.

If you encounter a lizard in the UK, unless you’re on heathland or sand dunes, it will almost certainly be a common lizard.  In sandy areas, there is a possibility that it could be a sand lizard, but these are much rarer, larger and often bright green in colour.

Photo (below) by David Element.

Photo by David Element

Threats to the common lizard

Common lizards are small and can move very fast if needed, but they often fall prey to birds of prey, members of the crow family like jays and even domestic cats.  However, in common with other lizards, they have a clever escape method: they can detach their tails! The tail will continue to wriggle, hopefully distracting the predator, while the lizard makes its escape.  This is why ‘stumpy’ lizards can sometimes be seen - they have detached their tails to live another day! Whilst the tails gradually regrow, the new growth is non-detachable, so it’s an escape method that can only be used once!

Photo by Dean Morley.

Photo by Dean Morley

Protecting the common lizard

Common lizards are protected by law in Great Britain, meaning that it is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell common lizards. The UK population appears to be declining and as a result, they are listed as a species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  In Northern Ireland they are even more fully protected against killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.

Photo (below) by David Slater.

Photo by David Slater


Photos by Dean Morley, David Element, David Slater and Iain Leach, courtesy of Wildscreen Exchange.

Factsheet created 01/08/2018. PL.

Photo by David Slater

Photo (above) by David Slater.

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