Lacerta agilis - Sand Lizard

Subsp. agilis, male: D / Düsseldorf, 29.04.2017 - Note the green flanks and the characteristic back pattern.
Subsp. agilis, male: D / Düsseldorf, 29.04.2017 - Note the green flanks and the characteristic back pattern.

The genus Lacerta comprises a group of eye-catching green lizards which may even have inspired the fantasy of our ancestors. Hence, it gave its name to the whole Lacertid familiy.

 

The smallest member of this genus, Lacerta agilis, has been designed for the continental Eurasian area: A ground-dwelling lizard with robust body and short head wich can even cope with Sibirian climate but is quite sensitive to heat.

 

It inhabits a huge area in temperate Eurasia - from the Pyrenees to China. In south of its range it is restricted to mountain habitats whereas in the north it is rather a lowland species which even occupies coastal dunes (as the common name "Sand Lizard" implies). With its brownish-green colouration it is well camouflaged in the open grassy areas of central-eastern Europe.

In our area, the following subspecies occur:

  • The nominate subspecies covers western Central Europe and southern Scandinavia;
  • Subspecies argus lives in eastern Central Europe (eastern Germany to Romania);
  • Subspecies bosnica occurs in the mountain ranges of the Balkans, to northern Greece in the south;
  • Subspecies chersonensis lives In Eastern Europe (Romanian Black Sea coast to eastern Poland);
  • Subspecies garzoni is restricted to a small area in the Pyrenees.

Males may be confused with other green lizards (Lacerta bilineata, Lacerta viridis). However, Lacerta agilis is smaller with a compact body. It can also be easily identified by its characteristic back pattern (see pictures). Juveniles of Lacerta agilis show characteristic lateral rows of light ocelli.

Lacerta agilis
The distribution area of Lacerta agilis.

Lacerta agilis may co-occur with Podarcis muralis (or other Podarcis species) and Zootoca vivipara from which it can be distinguished by frequently showing a light vertebral line. Eremias arguta at the Romanian Black Sea Coast may look similar to female Lacerta agilis but that latter one has a thicker tale.

 

In Central Europe, this species is highly threatened by intensive agriculture, clear landscapes without microstructures, "orderly" private gardens and straying domestic cats.

Lacerta agilis
Subsp. agilis, male: D / Bad Münstereifel, 25.04.2011 - A bright green male during mating season.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. agilis, male: D / Calw, 04.05.2014 - These lizards frequently bask on dry grass.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. agilis, juvenile: D / Düsseldorf, 24.09.2017 - Juveniles frequently show characteristic light ocelli on the flanks and a light vertebral line.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. argus, male: RO / Banat, 01.06.2013 - Lacerta agilis argus frequently shows reddish backs. Sometimes, this subspecies is regarded as a colour variety of the nominate subspecies.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. argus, male: RO / Banat, 31.05.2013 - This specimen shows a brownish back with irregular pattern.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. bosnica, male: MNE / Durmitor, 05.07.2015 - Lacerta agilis bosnica differs from the nominate subspecies by its continuous light vertebral line.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. bosnica, female - MNE / Biogradska NP, 31.07.2012 - Note the continous light vertebral line.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. bosnica, female: GR / Peristeri Mountains - A female with beautiful contrasting pattern.
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. chersonensis, female: RO / Histria, 26.05.2013
Lacerta agilis
Subsp. garzoni, male: F / Pyrenées-Orientales, 20.08.2016 - Lacerta agilis garzoni is more compactly built with shorter limbs than the nominate subspecies.
Lacerta agilis
A hillside habitat of Lacerta agilis in western Germany, where it co-occurs with Anguis fragilis and Coronella austriaca.