The everyday, ordinary reptile

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With the right environment, the aptly-named common lizard really is a common sight in the county, says Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Alex Hennessy

Dorset is lucky to have a range of lizard-friendly habitats

Living up to its name, the common lizard is the UK’s most widespread reptile and, interestingly, it is the only reptile native to Ireland. Found across many habitats, including heathland, moorland, woodland and grassland, it can often be seen basking in sunny spots. Here in Dorset, we are fortunate to have a range of these habitats, including our Dorset Wildlife Trust nature reserves. Upton Heath in Poole, Tadnoll and Winfrith Heath in East Knighton and Sopley Common in Christchurch are just a few of the places where conditions for lizards are just right – in fact, these sites are so good they are also home to the much rarer sand lizards.
Also known as the ‘viviparous lizard’, the common lizard is unusual among reptiles as it incubates its eggs inside its body and ‘gives birth’ to live young, rather than laying the eggs. Adults emerge from hibernation in spring, mate in April and May, and produce three to eleven young in July.

Spotting a lizard
Summer is the peak season for potential sightings of common lizards, as they can’t generate their own heat and instead bask in sheltered spots of sunshine or rest on a warm surface.
But how can you tell if you’ve spotted a common lizard? They are variable in colour, but are usually brownish-grey, often with rows of darker spots or stripes down the back and sides. Males have bright yellow or orange undersides with spots, while females have paler, plain bellies.
If you spot one, please don’t disturb it in order to identify it – as with all wildlife, it is best admired from a distance to avoid disturbance and stress.
And yes, the ‘tail-tales’ are true: if threatened by a predator, the common lizard will shed its still-moving tail in order to distract its attacker and make a quick getaway. It can regrow its tail, although it is usually shorter than the original.
To find out more about lizards and nature reserves where wildlife is thriving this summer, visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk.

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