The lizards of Europe belong overwhelmingly to the Family Lacertidae, which can be considered to belong primarily to the continent, with some species also found in Africa and Asia. In many ways they are the Old World equivalent of the Teiids, which are found only in the Americas. Most are medium to small-sized but beautifully coloured, but the Eyed Lizard reaches over 2ft in length and is an impressive and popular creature.
If you have visited any part of the Mediterranean, even in winter in some parts, you will probably have seen at least one of these lizards at some point, often basking on a rock, stone wall or similar. Some will tolerate humans within a certain distance, but most are skittish and dart off at the approach of a larger creature. If you want to observe them or photograph them, then binoculars or a camera with a good zoom is fairly essential. In some locations they may be surprisingly abundant but yet unseen by many passers-by. Unlike some lizards in the tropics (eg geckos, anoles) they do not seem to enter human habitation often.
Lacertid lizards are found in all countries of Europe, even such northerly or otherwise sparsely populated (in terms of reptiles) countries such as Norway or Ireland. However, it is true that numbers and diversity increase the further south one goes. Spain and Portugal are host to a good many, as are Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The largest species in Europe, Timon lepidus the Eyed Lizard, is found in Spain and France.
Mediterranean islands often have a unique mix of species. The Balearic islands are host to an interesting group of lacertids, mainly of the Podarcis genus. These show a high degree of speciation and subspeciation, often on the same island. They are also a testimony to the ability of many reptiles to survive in barren conditions where warm-blooded creatures would starve.
This is rather a lengthy page, but I have included as much information as possible to show just how many different species of lacertid there are in Europe. I hope that this page will raise the level of interest in our European lizards.
Either click on a lacertid in the Quick Index section or scroll down for the whole table.
|Genus||No. of species in Europe||Where found in Europe|
|Acanthodactylus, Fringe-Fingered Lizards||1||Spain|
|Algyroides, Algyroides||4||Spain, Corsica, Sardinia, Dalmatian coast and Greece|
|Darevskia, Rock Lizards||20||Turkey and the Caucasus|
|Lacerta, Green Lizards||29||All Europe|
|Ophisops, Snake-Eyed Lizards||1||SE Balkans, Transcaucasia|
|Podarcis, Wall Lizards||18||Most of Europe except Scandinavia, Ireland and the British Isles|
|Psammodromus, Sand Racers||2||Iberia and S France|
|Zootoca, Common Lizard||1||Most of Europe, including Ireland, Britain and Scandinavia, but not warmer parts of Mediterranean|
I would like to acknowledge the crucial part played in this page by Lanka and Vit's Amphibians and Reptiles, from which accounts of the more obscure lacertids were sometimes lifted almost verbatim. Also consulted at many points were Mattison's Lizards of the World and Keeping and Breeding Lizards. DeVosjoli's Lizard-Keeper's Handbook and Wynne's Lizards in Captivity were also consulted, although the latter is now somewhat out of date with the species names. The Heidelberg zoological classification website was also a source of much useful clarification.
Chris Davis has some excellent information on the captive breeding of lacertids, plus some beautiful photographs.
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