by Lizzy Dening
The Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) is one of only three species of lizard native to Britain (the others being the Common Lizard and the Slow Worm) and is the rarest of our six reptile species. Usually between 16-20 cm long, compared to the Common Lizard, they are bulkier in build, with a proportionally large head, a blunt snout and a short tail. Their colouration also differs to their common cousins, with females a speckled sandy-brown or grey colour, and males proudly wearing green flanks, which intensify in colour during the breeding season. This makes the males a striking sight on pale British sand dunes, and one well worth the effort of seeking out this summer.
Breeding season occurs in April, with the males displaying their notoriously aggressive behaviour, grabbing their opponent’s neck and fighting by rolling one another over repeatedly. Unlike the common lizard, which stores fertilised eggs in the body until almost fully developed, female sand lizards lay eggs, and are therefore an oviparous species. The females lay between 4-17 eggs in late June or early July, usually in a sandy burrow, and these hatch after 40-60 days.
Sand lizards feed on small invertebrates like spiders, grass hoppers, slugs and insects, but are also willing to indulge in the odd spot of fruit, or flower head. They pursue their food during daylight hours, but are nonetheless difficult creatures to spot due to their intense shyness and their penchant for hiding underground. One tip for finding them, and any other reptile, is to leave a metal tray or tin in a warm area, as, being ectothermic, lizards will often use these to bask on and store energy. They may even use a tray to shelter under in cool weather, or at night. Sand lizards hibernate between October and March, so make the most of the summer to view them.
As the name suggests, sand lizards prefer a dry sandy or heathland habitat. Unfortunately, due to human encroachment onto heathland and the loss of sand dunes during the 20th century, sand lizards are now increasingly rare in Britain, and are protected by law. However, small populations exist in areas such as Dorset, South Hamptonshire (the New Forest), the North Hamptonshire-Surrey border and the sand dunes of South Lancashire. Their range is much wider across most of Europe.
The National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) is currently undertaking a monitoring programme to help increase their numbers. Populations have already been reintroduced by this programme into 62 places in the UK, with a 90% success rate.