Manx SPCA column: The common lizard is the only reptile native to the island

Those of you who follow our social media pages will know how much people love sharing photos of their beloved pets with us, and we love seeing them.

We have recently been excited and amazed by the photographs sent to us of the common (or not so common) lizard.

The photographs were taken by Susan Chambers, who goes to great lengths to capture images of these shy little creatures, which are lightning fast and always stay close to the undergrowth so they can hide at the slightest sign of danger.

The common lizard is the most common reptile in the UK, but its numbers are declining; and it is the only reptile native to the Isle of Man.

It is found in a variety of habitats, from woodland to moorland, and you are likely to see one between March and October – basking on a rock or wooden pole, enjoying the sun.

The lizards are now in the middle of their breeding season (April/May) and their young will arrive in July, their numbers varying from three to 11.

The common lizard is unusual among reptiles in that it incubates its eggs inside its body, rather than laying them, and gives birth to live young.

The lizard feeds on small invertebrates such as flies, spiders, and even snails, and it hunts by day using sight and smell.

They in turn are a food source for many birds of prey, but they can often evade capture by losing their tails which they leave behind as a decoy.

The photograph we have chosen for this article, among the many beautiful ones taken by Susan, shows a lizard shedding its skin.

A reptile’s skin does not grow, so it must shed a layer of skin, called a molt or moult, allowing a new, larger layer to pass.

This process also allows the lizard to get rid of any parasites it might have caught.

If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll see a creature about 10-15cm long, with a tail that’s more than half its length and a small pointed head.

It is usually brown in color with a pattern of stripes or spots on the back and sides.

Males have bright yellow or orange speckled bellies, and females have paler, lighter bellies, and they can expect to live up to seven years.

They are protected by the Wildlife Act 1990 (and revised ordinance 2004) and they can only be captured or removed under licence.

The places where they have chosen to shelter are also protected and they cannot be deliberately damaged, destroyed or obstructed.

And it is also an offense to sell, trade, injure or kill the common lizard.

These amazing little creatures need the sun to warm their bodies in order to stay active, and so they hibernate between October and March under rocks and fallen logs.

As Susan will testify, a good tip for spotting lizards is to walk slowly along a path, scanning either side for possible basking sites.

The rustling motion of a lizard rushing for cover is often the first sign you’ll get of its presence, but it’s worth waiting quietly when it happens as lizards tend to stick around to the same places to sunbathe and will return.

If you see a common lizard, please notify Manx Wildlife Trust (email: [email protected]), ideally with a grid and photograph, so they can map the distribution of lizards around the island and try to measure their population.

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