The United Kingdom is home to six types of reptile, and one of these scaly friends is found abundantly in Dane Valley Woods. The common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is found across most of the country and Dane Valley Woods is ideal habitat for it to thrive.
The common lizard has a great variation in colour but tends to be brownish with spotted and striped patterns, although different colour morphs exist, such as the rare plain morph which has been spotted in the Woods! Common lizards may also be melanistic, which means completely black (but melanistic adults are not to be confused with new-born common lizards which are also totally black).
Common lizards are sexually dimorphic meaning males and females look different. A male lizard tends to be ‘spotty’ whilst a female tends to be more ‘stripey’. The sex can be more easily distinguished by their bellies as males have bright orange or yellow bellies covered with black spots, whereas females have plain grey or yellowish bellies with no spots.
Common lizards are also known as viviparous lizards, which means they give birth to live young, unlike many other species of reptile which lay eggs. However, interestingly, populations in warmer climates actually lay eggs and these populations tend not to interbreed successfully with live young laying lizards. A female may give birth from 3 to 11 offspring which are born black with no markings.
The juvenile lizards as well as adult lizards are important prey species, as you may have read in our Kestrel blog, however, they are not easy prey to catch. Reptiles are ‘cold blooded’ so use the sun to warm themselves up and become active, so on hot days common lizards are extremely fast and nimble and catching a sight of them becomes difficult. Common lizards are also competent swimmers and may use this as a means of escaping. However, in extreme cases, a lizard may also shed its tail to escape. The tail remains wriggling to distract the predator, giving the lizard a chance to get to safety.
Whilst this species is widespread, studies have suggested a decline in its numbers and it has recently been added to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, it is also protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
To read up about this species and other reptiles, visit Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group.