Sand lizard

Lacerta agilis

SUBFAMILY

Lacertinae

TAXONOMY

Lacerta agilis Linnaeus, 1766, southern Sweden (restricted by Mertens and Muller, 1928).

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Lézard agile; German: Zauneidechse.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a heavy-bodied lacertid, reaching almost 12 in (30 cm) in eastern populations but smaller in the west. The head is blunt and short. Color is variable; in western races the female is brown with darker spots, while males develop bright green flanks; in eastern forms the whole back is almost completely green.

DISTRIBUTION

It has one of the largest ranges of all lacertids, and occurs from the British Isles in the west to northwest China in the east, and from southern Sweden and Karelia in the north (62°N) to the Pyrenees, Balkans, and central Greece (39°N) in the south.

HABITAT

As can be expected from its common name, this lizard favors sandy soils in the western part of its range, inhabiting heathlands and coastal dunes. In the east, however, it prefers clay soils.

BEHAVIOR

The sand lizard is very inconspicuous, although it often clambers and basks in thick shrub. At night or when threatened it retreats into a hole in the ground or cavities amid the roots of bushy shrubs. Males are territorial and will drive off rival males.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This species actively searches for prey among cover and eats a wide variety of insects, and it is occasionally cannibalistic.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Clutches of from three to 14 eggs are buried in a hole excavated in sun-warmed sand and take 40-60 days to develop.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened; although locally threatened in many Western European countries (e.g., Britain, Holland, and Germany) by scrub encroachment, deforestation, urban development, and recreational activities.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

This is a "flagship" species for protecting threatened heath-lands in Western Europe. ♦

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