There are over 7,000 lizard species worldwide. They come in all colours, shapes and sizes from the Komodo dragon, which reaches around 3m in length, to the tiny nano-chameleon, which is only 22mm long! Sunday 14th August is #WorldLizardDay, a chance for lizard lovers everywhere to celebrate these fascinating animals. What more excuse do we need? Read on to learn more about our native lizards.

Britain has three native lizards, the slow-worm, common lizard and sand lizard. They can be found in open areas such as heathlands, moorland, rough grassland and sand dunes, though the sand lizard is highly restricted to just certain parts of Britain. Lizards feed on small invertebrates such as spiders and slugs. They play an important role in food webs, representing an easy meal for a wide range of predators. Slow-worms are the most urban of our lizards, sometimes found in city gardens, where they may be mistaken for snakes as they lack legs.

If you are a more learned lizard lover you may already know all this BUT have you heard our lesser-know lizard facts before?

Did you know?

Most lizards, including all British species, can voluntarily shed their tail if they feel threatened. The discarded tail thrashes around for several minutes, presumably distracting predators. The tail grows back to something approaching its normal length in common lizards and sand lizards, while in the slow-worm it just forms a stump. Happily, lizards do not seem to be adversely affected by tail loss.

Juvenile common lizard

Female common lizards decide which males to mate with based partly on the colour of their throats. Males have whitish throats that reflect ultraviolet light, and this seems to be a powerful signal for females about the quality of their potential mates.

The common lizard gives birth to live young in Britain, but in some parts of its range on the continent, it lays eggs. It is very unusual for a species to have two modes of reproduction. In Britain, an adult female will typically give birth to 4-10 babies per year, in June and July. The baby lizards are dark brown replicas of their parents.

Male sand lizard mate guarding

Male sand lizards are known for developing conspicuous bright green sides in the breeding season. They also display “mate guarding” behaviour at this time: after he has mated with a female, a male sand lizard will stay close to her and fight off any approaching male, often locking jaws and wrestling with the interloper.

Britain’s rarest lizard, the sand lizard, has lost about 80% of its former range over the last century. A reintroduction programme lead by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has released over 10,000 captive-bred baby lizards in an effort to re-establish the species in England and Wales. The success of this programme was celebrated on a postage stamp in 2018.

Slow-worm with its spanner shaped tongue

The slow-worm has a tongue shaped like a spanner, a very unusual shape for an animal tongue. That is just one of the many curious features of slow-worms. They also have bony plates in their skin, forming a tough exterior almost like armour. Slow-worms can also be unusually long-lived, reportedly living around 50 years in captivity, though they would not survive so long in the wild.

The slow-worm is the most confusingly named of Britain’s three lizards: it is neither slow nor a worm. Like the other lizard species, it is a reptile and is capable of fast movements in warm weather. The slow-worm’s name probably derives from Middle English for snake.

Shakespeare has slow-worms as an ingredient in the famous scene in Macbeth when three witches cook up a spell, in the phrase “blind-worm’s sting.” There is some poetic licence here as slow-worms do have vision and do not have a sting, though this references beliefs that were common until quite recently.

Did you learn something new? Let us know via our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and share your own #WorldLizardDay facts!

If you’d like to find out more about our native lizards visit our species pages for more information and photographs or why not try our free online course 'Identifying UK Lizards'. If you're lucky enough to spot a lizard, or any reptile or amphibian, don't forget to report your sightings