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Quick facts

Common names: common lizard, viviparous lizard

Scientific name: Zootoca vivipara

Family: Lacertidae (lizards)

Habitat: open woodland, heathland, moorland and sometimes gardens

Diet: insects, spiders and other invertebrates

Predators: birds of prey, crows and other large birds, foxes and domestic cats

Origin: native

What do common lizards look like?

While it varies in colour from black to vivid green, the common lizard is usually brown with a pattern of stripes or spots. It has scaly skin, a small, pointed head and measures around 10–15cm in length. Its tail makes up over half of its length. Males have bright yellow or orange-speckled bellies whereas females have paler, plain undersides.

Not to be confused with: the sand lizard, a larger, brighter and much rarer egg-laying relative found on coastal dunes in the south and west of the UK.

common lizard adult basking on vegetation

Credit: Oliver Smart / Alamy Stock Photo

What do common lizards eat?

The common lizard feeds on small invertebrates such as flies, spiders and even snails. It hunts by day using sight and scent, warming its body first by basking in the sun.

Did you know?

The word ‘viviparous’ means ‘to bear live young’, which have developed inside the body of their mother, rather than in laid eggs.

How do common lizards breed?

Instead of laying eggs, this lizard bears ‘live young’. Mating takes place in late spring, after which up to 10 young develop inside the female, giving her a fattened, pregnant look. The young are then ‘born’ in July.

common lizard gravid female basking on bramble

Credit: David Sewell / Alamy Stock Photo

How do common lizards hibernate?

Without a way to heat their own bodies, ‘cold-blooded’ reptiles such as lizards rely on the warmth of the sun to remain active. Between October and March they hibernate beneath rocks and fallen logs, emerging in spring as temperatures rise.

Where do common lizards live?

Common lizards are widespread throughout the UK and are the only reptile native to Ireland. They are found in grassland, heathland, woodland edges, moorland and sometimes gardens, often bathing in spots of sunshine.

common lizard close up

Credit: Geoff Smith / Alamy Stock Photo

Signs and spotting tips

Walk slowly and scan the margins between dry paths and vegetation. Focus on sunny open areas and possible basking places, such as brash piles, low logs and open grassy spots. The rustling movement of a lizard darting for cover is often the first sign you’ll get, but it’s worth returning – lizards stick to the same basking spots.

Did you know?

When under attack by a predator, this lizard can shed its tail, which will continue to move as a distraction, allowing it to escape.

Threats and conservation

Although the species is widespread, the common lizard is in decline due to habitat loss. It is protected under UK law, however, meaning that it is an offence to deliberately sell, trade, injure or kill a common lizard.