Sand Lizard

The Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) is distributed across most of Europe (except the Iberian peninsula, west and south-east France, most of Great Britain, Italy where it is present only in isolated colonies, European Turkey, most of Greece) and eastwards to Mongolia. The Sand Lizard has a light underbelly and a dorsal stripe. Males tend to be darker in colour and turn green during the mating season.

Sand lizards are stocky and short-legged, with short heads, blunt snouts and short tails. Sand Lizards can reach up to 25 centimetres in length.

The Sand Lizard has several sub-species the westernmost of which is called Lacerta agilis agilis. In this and the other main western sub-species (Lacerta agilis argus) the dorsal stripe is thinner and sometimes interrupted – often not present at all, particularly in the latter sub-species which also contains the red-backed phase which has no dorsal markings at all but a plain red to brown dorsum. Females are generally longer than the males.

In the sub-species only the flanks of the males turn green in the mating season, unlike the eastern sub-species (particularly Lacerta agilis exigua) in which males can be totally green even outside the breeding season. Male sand lizards fight ferociously for females during the mating season.

Sand lizards grab the neck of their opponent with their jaws and then roll over and over each other as if they were wrestling, until one, usually the smaller lizard, retreats.

Although restricted to heathland habitats and sand dunes in Britain, in mainland Europe sand lizards can be found in hedgerows, fields, woodland margins, parks, gardens and on roadsides. In France, sand lizards can also be found in mountainous habitats.

The Sand lizards’ diet mainly consists of invertebrates such as slugs, spiders and insects, but will also feed on a variety of other foods such as fruit and flower heads.

Although Sand Lizards are active during the day, they are very shy and difficult to spot. Even in good weather they will spend much of their time under the ground. It is common for sand lizards to form small colonies, sometimes sharing the same burrows. Sand Lizards hibernate from October to March, males emerging some time before the females.

Sand lizards are endangered in Britain, mainly due to the loss and fragmentation of their heathland habitat. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to kill, injure or sell sand lizards.