7 things you never knew about the sand lizard

Discover fascinating facts about the sand lizard, one of the UK's rarest reptiles.

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Sand lizard illustration © Felicity Cole

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Where are sand lizards found?

Britain’s sand lizards are at the extreme western edge of a range that stretches to Mongolia and China in the east, north into Sweden and south to Greece and Georgia.

Are sand lizards found in Scotland?

In 1970, scientists released 39 sand lizards on the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides to test whether they could survive so far north. They could, and their descendants now comprise Scotland’s only population.

What habitats do sand lizards need?

Sand lizards require sun-warmed patches of bare sand or soil in which to incubate their eggs. In Britain they are restricted to heaths and dunes in south and north-west England and north Wales.

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Sand lizard spotted in Dorset © Sandra Standbridge / Getty

How big do sand lizards get?

These stocky, muscular reptiles can reach 21cm in length – about half as long again as our only other native four-legged terrestrial reptile, the common lizard.

What colour are sand lizards?

A sand lizard’s brown body is decorated with eye-like black blotches with white centres. Males turn a vivid green along their flanks during the breeding season. The greenest males enjoy the highest reproductive success.

Are there any nicknames for sand lizards?

In his book Lives of British Lizards, poet and naturalist Colin Simms nicknamed the sand lizard and common lizard The Aristocrat and The Commoner, respectively.

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A male sand lizard warming up in the sunshine © Sandra Standbridge / Getty

Do sand lizards hibernate?

Sand lizards emerge from hibernation around late March and early April. Males appear first because they are infertile until they have basked in the sun for a few days.

Do sand lizards lay eggs?

Sand lizards are the only native UK lizard species to lay eggs (oviparity). Both slow worms and common lizards give birth to live young.

Plus conservation scientist Rachel Gardner answers three questions on reintroducing sand lizards…

1

How are sand lizards bred in captivity?

Small groups are kept in naturalistic outdoor vivaria replicating the dry heath and sand dune habitats that the species inhabits in the wild. In spring, males emerge, sporting their vivid green breeding finery. After mating, females lay up to 18 eggs, which are carefully excavated and artificially incubated to maximise their chances of survival. Juveniles hatch within six weeks and, again, are held in outdoor vivaria until release.

2

How and where are the hatchlings released?

Juveniles and sometimes sub-adult lizards (of unknown sex) are released across a site in cohorts of 80 per year over three consecutive years. Release sites are within the species’ previous known or presumed range, but with no individuals present and causes of loss addressed. Releases normally take place in early autumn, giving the lizards time to locate suitable overwintering sites, such as the burrows of small mammals.

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3

What are a sand lizard’s habitat requirements?

Sand lizards need habitat with a varied vegetation structure that offers areas for both basking and sheltering, as well as sandy soils for egg-laying. Through my research for the University of Southampton and Marwell Wildlife (in partnership with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Natural England), which involves tracking individuals using radio tags, I hope to learn more about how this species uses microhabitats following reintroduction.