The Viparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

Although living in an apartment, and sometimes staying at home for the day rather than venture into the wilds, I am still able to appreciate nature.

Nature comes to visit.

The flat overlooks a field that is bordered by ash trees.  They are not in leaf yet, being one of the later trees to bud in the year.   Yesterday, I took out the binoculars to get a closer look at a buzzard in the trees until it took to wing.  I’ve also managed to catch a glimpse of a red squirrel from time to time, which is always a source of excitement as they are very rare in the UK and I never did get to see any in Scotland when we visited.

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The ever changing view from the terrace

Garden birds come to the terrace; there are insects now inhabiting the various plant pots and seed trays I’ve established there.  This morning it was a pair of great tits, one keeping guard while the other flitted down to peck at whatever it was that they had discovered there.

While looking out the kitchen window I noticed a small lizard sunning itself.  My movement scared it, and it hid by lowering itself beneath the pane.  But like an ostrich with its head in the sand, it didn’t realise I could still see its tail.  I got out the camera and managed to catch it before it slipped away.

Kitchen guest: common lizard on the kitchen window frame. It thought about diving into the condensation drainage hole.  However, it changed its mind and posed for a shot.

It was a viparous or common lizard, the second one I’ve seen on the terrace, the previous one a little larger than this.  As it’s mating season, we could be seeing a lot more of them.

Although they are very common in the north of Spain (not so much in the south, where geckos reign supreme, and even the occasional chameleon), we are still amused by them, they are a novelty to us. I don’t think I ever observed one in Yorkshire, though they do inhabit the British isles.


They are not generally known for their polymorphic abilities, but the females can and do change colour.  There are three variants:  Yellow, orange and mixed.  The extent to which they do change is related to local lizard population and sexual competition.  Colour polymorphism is more prevalent in lower density populations where competition is low.  There is no clear reason for this, and the phenomenon is poorly understood.

Their size varies greatly as they are not sexually mature until two or three years old.  Males tend to be slimmer than females.  They diet on small invertebrates, shaking the insect before swallowing it whole.

What’s for lunch?

Here, in the north of Spain, we’ve observed them all year round, appearing whenever the sun comes out.


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