Common Lizard Encounters
“Sssshhh, come here – quickly!”
I never particularly enjoy being told to sssshhh, but I had figured Bill was shushing me for a wildlife related reason, as he was stood stock still staring intently at a clump of heather. I can make exceptions for wildlife related shushing.
“Look it’s just there,” Bill said, slowly pointing a finger at the clump of heather.
“What’s there?” I whispered back, slightly impatiently. I was trying to take photos of the teeming mass of wood ants that were marching back and forth across the path. None of whom would march themselves onto the only clear patch, which made photographing them just a little bit tricky. “I can’t see it!” I said as my gaze switched from ants to heather.
“It’s a lizard, on that leaf there,” Bill replied, slightly impatient, at me and my inability to spot the lizard that he clearly didn’t want me to miss.
My eyes honed in on the leaf in question, and there, bold as brass, unflinching (which I was surprised about because any other encounters I’ve had with lizards have seen them scurrying off into the undergrowth before I’ve spat the word “LIZARD” out of my mouth) was a beguiling reptile staring back at us.
“Common lizard.” I said to Bill, feeling slightly smug at my instant identification.
Although, the smugness wasn’t exactly warranted, we had just seen the common lizards that live at the New Forest Reptile Centre, where we spent a good while watching them inside their enclosures. So, if I couldn’t ID the one that was sat, arms-length away, in the wild, then there really was no hope for me.
Its scales shone smoothly, in the dappled light of the woodland. They were brownish in colour, liked crunched autumn leaves, with lines of black and greenish dots along its back. The females have pale, plain under bellies unlike the males who have bright yellows or oranges adorned with dots. It was hard to get a good look at the lizards under belly but from its curved position I could make out a paler underside, so possibly a female.
Despite its robustness from a chainmail armour made from hundreds of overlapping scales, it seemed so delicate. The way the skin along its sides stretched taught with the arch of its body gave it the appearance of paper, so fine and almost see through. I know this isn’t the case though and these lizards are hardy little creatures, capable of dropping their tail to get away from predators. I think it might have possibly happened this one, although their tails grow back, they tend to grow back slightly shorter and show scarring. Our lizard’s tail was much much shorter with a black band across it. I wander what tried to eat it?
The common lizard lives up to its name and is the commonest lizard in the UK. It is suited to a whole range of habitats from heaths, moorlands, woodlands, grasslands, embankments and sometimes even back gardens. That makes the New Forest an ideal location for them because it pretty much ticks all the habitat boxes.
Like lots of reptiles they spend their time basking on rocks or warm areas exposed to plenty of sunshine. They like their basking spots to have plenty of cover close by so they can shoot off and hide should the need arise.
Unlike lots of reptiles though (and this is a pretty cool fact I found from the Wildlife Trusts website) the common lizard, doesn’t lay eggs! Instead it incubates them internally and then ‘gives birth’ to live young.
They do hibernate though. So, from around March until November you won’t really spot any out and about, unless there’s some un-seasonally warm weather and then they might venture out to hunt for food. The common lizard has a diet comprised of spiders, slugs, worms and insects which they swallow whole.
I could have stared at that lizard and its delicate features all day. It was easy to make out its tiny nostrils and ears. The miniscual clawed feet, clutching at dry leaves, with its head raised as if poised for battle. A proper little woodland warrior.
It was clear this lizard wasn’t backing down, so we thought we’d better. Slowly, we carried on down the track under the common lizard’s watchful eye, both with big grins on our faces.
It was definitely worth getting shushed for.