A major part of these pages is dedicated to European Lacertid Lizards (Lacertidae or true lizards) – a fascinating family of reptiles with a high species diversity in Europe: Currently, 62 species occur in the area covered by our pages. This is quite a lot, compared to other reptile families in Europe (e.g. Chamaeleons: 2 species; Skinks: 9 species; Vipers: 10 species). Actually, almost 50% of the European reptiles are Lacertids.
From external characters, Lacertids differ from other lizards like Agamas or Skinks by frequently (but not always) showing an explicit “collar” on their throat. More precise, Lacertidae are defined by genetic relationship. Actually, genetic analysis has revealed that e.g. Lacertids and Skinks, although they may look quite similar, are not closely related. In fact, the closest relatives of Lacertids seem to be the strange Amphisbenisdae (Worm Lizards). Obviously, things are not always as they appear…
Although Lacertids can be found in most European areas, the Mediterranean basin with its warm climate has turned out to be a hot spot for diversity. Particularly, areas like Greece or the Iberian Peninsula can be regarded as evolutionary biodiversity labs with a high share of endemism (species which only occur in a certain area).
Most species will be best encountered during mating season in spring while in summer they may be more secretive. Only some high altitude mountain species will easier be found during summer months. Furthermore, males of numerous species are quite colourful in spring but will loose these colours later in the year.
Searching in the morning when the lizards warm up in the sun can be quite rewarding; during the hot afternoon hours they may disappear in their hiding places.
Exploring a promising habitat, try to be decent and move slowly: most animals will notice you before you do. Noise or invasive behavior will probably make them disappear (see also "Photographing Lizards").
The main purpose of our pages is demonstrating the beauty and variety of Lacertid Lizards, but not providing a field guide. Our pages give a rough overview of the geographic species distribution and their preferred habitats. We mention the most obvious field characters and give some hints for distinction of similar species, and some major external characters. Some iconic species like the Ocellated Lizard will be easy to identify. However, identification of other species may be tricky, sometimes. In particulur the inconspicious females of different small Lacertids may look very similar.
Hence, if you are planning a trip to find particular species, it may be helpful to consult additional literature (there do exist several excellent books like the Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe by Speybroeck, Beukema, Bok, Van Der Voort & Velikov). In some cases, even expert opinions could be required.
But, Keep in mind: First of all, it’s about enjoying these gorgeous animals. Simply watching some Common Wall Lizards basking in the sun will make your day!