Natural History Illustration: British Lizards September 5th 2014

Story posted: Friday, 5. September 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Of the six species of reptile found in the UK (see last week's blog on the snakes), three are lizards.  My scientific illustrations of these reptiles have been done over the years for Wildlife Trusts and books (The Bumper Book of Nature by Stephen Moss, amongst others.)

Our first British lizard is often mistaken for a snake, but is in fact a legless lizard, the Slow worm (Anguis fragilis).  This is a beautiful slender bronze creature, the only clear markings being a black vertebral stripe in the females.  It can reach 45cm in length.  Like other lizards (and unlike snakes) the slow worm has eyelids.  It is also able to shed its tail; the lizard rushes away leaving a thrashing tail behind to distract predators as it escapes.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration Slow worm

Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)

All reptiles lay eggs, but the slow worm is ovi-viviparous, which means the young are born within an egg membrane.  This breaks moments after birth.

Slow worms eat slugs and snails, and can be found living unobtrusively in garden compost bins, churchyards, railway embankments, and areas of wasteland.

The Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is widespread (and is the only reptile that exists in neighbouring Ireland); often found on moors, heaths, and grassy areas.  They are about 15cm long and brownish with mottled markings, however, there's an enormous range of colour variation; from black through bright greenish.


Lizzie Harper Natural history illustration of the common lizard

Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

They are viviparous, which means they give birth to live young.  In reality, this means they retain their eggs internally until birth.  The young tend to be darker in colour, becoming more coppery as they age.  The common lizard feeds primarily on insects and spiders.

Common lizard in field by Lizzie Harper

Common lizard basking in a field

The third species of British lizard is the rarest; the Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis).  This animal is only found on southern heathland (although the Amphibian and Reptile conservation Trust (ARC) are re-introducing them to many other location across the UK).  About 20cm long, it has more striking markings than the common lizard, with patches of white.  Males tend to be bright green, and in the breeding season this colour can be quite dramatic.  As with the common lizard, their main diet is invertebrates.


Natural history illustration of the Sand lizard by Lizzie Harper

Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

To see all our reptile species compared, have a look at the BBC Reptile identification site; or the home page of the British Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (Arc).

Please remember, it is against the law to deliberately kill or hurt any British reptile; so enjoy watching and identifying them, but don't be tempted to interfere with them.

For more on British reptiles, please take a look at my blog on Snakes of the UK.


On another note entirely, I'm afraid I've had to turn off the "comments" button on my blogs due to spamming.  If you would like to give any comments or feedback, please do so on my Facebook page or Twitter account.  Many many thanks; and apologies.

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