On the Origin of a Species: The Common or Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

Look at this beauty! First time I’ve ever been able to get such a close-up shot of a lizard and I had to be very, very gentle. Who knows what rashes I shall develop from resting my arms on unknown foliage but…worth it! (Credit: Me)

Called common because it is common, with a wide distribution from all the way far North in Norway and as far south as Spain it also spans from Ireland (where it is the only native reptile) in the West to the island of Sakhalin off the East coast of Russia.

Why, then, do I give a shit?

Because it’s beautiful.

We’ve discussed ‘ecosystem services’ before, lots of times. It came up in almost every one of our ‘Top Ten Hated…’ articles, and it’s the ecological idea of the monetary value a species provides through what it does. If it eats insects that are crop pests it saves on pesticide use and saves farmers X-millions of pounds, if it pollinates it helps food crops and saves X-millions of dollars worldwide etc. etc.

I see the value of that measure and, more than anything in the crudely capitalist and consumptive cultures many of us live in I think it’s a very good brass-tacks way of getting selfish pricks to understand nature has, to them, as far as their moneyed eyes are concerned, a ‘value’.

Casually looking away from the camera – You can see the slight shedding of skin around the tail. I would be interested to know if this is from a full shed or if the tail has grown back from having been autotomised. That’s when animals shed a limb to escape danger, and these lizards can do it with their tails so they often have stumps. (Credit: Me)

To me, though, life, biodiversity, each little species is innately valuable and I think my attitude towards these lizard sums up that attitude.

They’re not rare. In hotter countries I’ve seen them twenty to a wall and basking in their own brilliance.

They are unusual, they’re called the ‘viviparous lizard’ because they, unlike many lizards, give birth to live young. This is an adaptation to the mostly colder climates they inhabit, considering they can be active from March to October, and in places like Norway – one harsh storm or cold snap could put paid to your batch of eggs that it doesn’t if they’re safely inside of you.

An example of two things; 1) The colour variation, my one is very olive-green, this one is very brown and 2) the lack of a tail! Possibly stolen by a predator but most likely shed so the lizard could escape. (Credit: Filip Maljković

The other unusual thing about them is their colouration. They exhibit polymorphism, or different colour types or forms. Females, particularly, have a wide range of colours they seem to be able to come in and these seem determined by a combination of genetics and environment.

There are odd differences in reproduction between these colour morphs.

Otherwise, that’s it. It’s just a little lizard.

So why do I like them so much?

I’ve always had a strong draw towards nature, towards wildlife particularly. My first time seeing one of these little lizards (and I have to say they used to be a lot more common than they are now, here) was a bit of a shock to my system. I was only 5 or 6 and to me, then, lizards and reptiles were far-away, foreign, exotic – the kind of thing you find in the deserts of the Middle-East or the Outback of Australia, not in the crevice of the concrete step outside your house.

To me these lizards represent one of the first times life, nature, and evolution surprised me with just how incredibly adaptive, hardy and diverse it was.

This was my second lizard, by the way. I thought I had missed my chance to snap as it ran away as I drew my phone out, but I saw this one later on and it was a lot more chill. (Credit: Me)

It helps that they’re shy as fuck, too! It’s rare to get close to one, they skitter off as fast as anything. They have to be fast, of course, they eat all sorts of other fast invertebrates.

If you’re going to see one keep an eye out on sunkissed posts and paths, but you may need a sharp eye because they’ll scarper if you get within a couple of metres of them.

I made this post for three reasons. One is that there are only six native reptile species in the UK (So few I’ll name them; the common lizard, the sand lizard, the slow worm, the grass snake, the adder and the smooth snake) and I don’t feel they get spoken about enough because they’re all absolutely gorgeous. Two, they’re probably my favourite UK native reptile for the reasons I stated above and…Three. Well look at the photos! I took them!

The camouflage is real! It’s easy to see how these guys keep themselves so low-key! (Credit: Me)

If you don’t follow me on Twitter @WeLackDiscipline then you’re missing my new hobby of taking tons of photos on nature walks! That and moaning a lot about how bad my life is…But mostly photos!

It’s become one of my favourite things to do so come join me on the Twitters and never miss a snap!

Want to learn more about more species?
The Saltwater Crocodile is covered here
The Tapir Family is covered here

Or you can start our Top Ten Cats series

Or the Top Ten Sharks

Or perhaps the Top Ten Most Hated (but Misunderstood) Species

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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