Last updated 4 June 2006: updated introduction and Bibliography.


These three lizard families have few representatives in Europe. All of them are fairly impressive, however.

Of the agamids, the most commonly seen is Laudakia stellio which is often encountered on Greek islands by the traveller. The family is otherwise mainly found in Africa and more particularly in Asia and Australia.

The chameleon is too well known and recognisable to need much introduction. Most chameleon species are found in Africa and Madagascar, with one representative, Chameleo chameleo, in isolated areas in Europe. While these strange-looking lizards are fascinating, it should be noted that keeping them in captivity is very tricky and demanding and not for the beginner.

Anguids are not a household name, but to UK residents this family may well be recognisable in the form of the Slowworm, Anguis fragilis. Although often mistaken for a snake, it can easily be distinguished as a lizard by the fact of its eyelids, which snakes lack. These inoffensive and useful little reptiles are widespread across most of Europe and further afield and have the capacity for very long lives given their size. They perform useful services to gardners by preying on slugs. The European Glass Lizard, Pseudopus apoda, is essentially a larger slowworm, and shares some of its characteristics, including longevity. It is unafraid to tackle venomous snakes, in addition to more normal prey for a lizard. It is also intelligent and in captivity learns to recognise its keeper.

Laudakia stellio, Hardun/Sling-Tailed Agama Laudakia caucasica, Caucasian Agama Phrynocephalus guttatus,Spotted Toad-Headed Agama
Chamaeleo chamaeleon, Mediterranean Chameleon Anguis fragilis, Slowworm Anguis cephalonnicus, Slowworm
Ophisaurus apodus, Scheltopusik/European Glass Lizard    

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Laudakia stellio Hardun (aka Sling-Tailed Agama) Med. coasts: Corfu, Cyclades, Rhodes, Greece 12" Formerly known as Agama stellio but reclassified a few years ago as Laudakia stellio. A very timid agamid, but one which has been kept in captivity and become tame. There are pockets of L. stellio on Greece, apparently especially around Salamis. This is a somewhat flattened looking lizard with a rather triangular head, large tympanum and gular fold. There is no dorsal crest (unlike many other agamids). Males can be distinguished by thickened preanal and ventral scales. Harduns greatly enjoy sunshine and bask on stone walls, rocks and buildings, and also on trees. Their retreat is usually a pile of stones or a rodent burrow. Like many agamas the Hardun, especially the male, can change colour as a result of mood change or excitement. 6-8 eggs are laid in June and hatch in August-September.
L. s. stellio Mykonos Island (Aegean)
L. s. brachydactyla N Saudi Arabia, S Israel, Sinai Desert
L. s. cypriacus Cyprus
L. s. daani Salonika, many Aegean islands
L. s. picea SW Syria, S Lebanon, N Israel, NW Jordan
L. s. vulgaris N Egypt
Laudakia caucasia Caucasian Agama Daghestan, Trancaucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), Turkmenistan, NE Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan 14" Inhabits mountainous regions up to 3,000 m. high: an excellent climber thanks to its sharp claws and keeled scales on its tail.
Phrynocephalus guttatus Spotted Toad-Head (Agama) Former Soviet Union, Russia (from NW coast of Caspian Sea eastward to E Kazakhstan, Dagestan, Astrakhan Oblast and Volgograd Oblast), Turkmenistan, SE Europe, W Asia, W China (N Xinjiang), Mongolia: poss. Eritrea & Ethiopia 4-5" The Toad-Headed Agamas are more commonly found in Central Asia but this species is also found in the steppes and barren areas of E. Europe. As with all this genus, they are characterised by large heads and flattened, smooth bodies. All are insectivorous. Like the Eremias lizards which inhabitat similar biotopes, P. guttatus is naturally short-lived: 2 years in the wild and up to 3 in captivity. The females lay up to 3 clutches of 2-3 eggs each between the middle of April and August. The young emerge after about a month.
P. g. guttatus N Caucasian mountains across N shore of Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan
P. g. kalmykus Kazakhstan
P. g. kuschakawitschi Jungghariya
Chamaeleo chamaeleon Mediterranean Chameleon European Mediterranean (Spain, Malta, Greece and Crete), N Africa 8-12" Three subspecies of this chameleon, including the nominate subspecies C. c. chamaeleon, live in the Mediterranean region: the fourth, interestingly enough, lives in India. The species was probably not indigenous to Malta but has now settled and become distributed there. The preferred habitat is scrubland. In late summer the females lay about 30 eggs at the foot of a tree and cover them with soil: these hatch out the following spring. These chameleons are diurnal.
Anguis fragilis fragilis Slow-Worm All Europe to Carpathians except Ireland and N. Scandinavia; also NW Africa 20" A very widely distributed and hardy legless lizard that unfortunately was often mistaken for a snake and killed. Apart from their wide distribution, slow-worms also colonise most altitudes, from lowland to above the mountain forests. Even in the populous UK they can be found along railway embankments. They dislike wet meadows and peat-bogs, but rain will often bring them out in search of their main prey, slugs and worms. The tail is somewhat delicate (hence the fragilis) and is often lost and regenerated. Slow-worms give live birth to about 5-26 young at the end of summer (Aug-Sept): sexual maturity takes 3 years. These lizards are usually solitary or found in pairs, but often hibernate en masse in the same place, often beneath the roots of a tree. Hibernation begins in October and lasts until March or, in colder climates, May. They are extremely long-lived: the record in captivity was 54 years.
A. f. colchicus E. Europe, Asia Minor, NW Iran, Transcaucasia and W. Siberia
A. f. peloponnesiacus Peloponnese peninsula
A. cephalonnicus Greece (inc. Ionian islands of Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zakynthos) Raised to species level in 1993 by Engelmann et al (see EMBL database entry). Most visible difference from A. fragilis is the dark vertebral line: this is continuous in A. fragilis but broken in A. cephalonnicus. Otherwise probably very similar in ecology and appearance.
Pseudopus [Ophisaurus] apoda Scheltopusik (European Glass Lizard) S. Europe, Balkans, S. Crimean coast, Caucasus (Black Sea coast), Transcaucasia, C. Asia 3-4' The Scheltopusik has often been another terrarium favourite because of its hardiness, its size and its extreme longevity. Although it bites hard, it is reasonably intelligent and does learn to recognise its keeper. Like the slow-worm it is hardy, but tends to be found at lower altitudes. Open wooded areas (inc. vineyards and olive groves) or (in C. Asia) rounded hills with loess soil and short grass are its preferred habitats: in the latter it utilises rodent burrows. Scheltopusiks are quite predacious and in addition to normal invertebrate prey (especially gastropods) take rodents, small birds and lizards and snakes. Their dentition is suited to dealing with both mollusc shells and larger items. Unlike many lizards, autotomy of the tail is rare and if it is lost then it does not easily regenerate. Males can often be distinguished by their heads, which are usually wider than the body. Females lay 6-10 eggs in June-July. Young scheltopusiks have very contrasting colour patterns that fade to a uniform light yellow (in the Caucasus and C. Asia) or coffee colour (in the Mediterranean). Like most glass lizards, the Scheltopusik has a long lateral groove. The scales of its skin are reinforced by osteoderms, and there are two tiny (3-4 mm) vestigial hind digits in the cloacal region. It is also a good swimmer and can remain in water for some time. Again, a captive longevity of over 50 years has been recorded for these creatures.

The EMBL reptile database notes that Roitberg et al (2000), and Klembara have transferred this species to the monotypic genus Pseudopus (thereby making it Pseudopus apodus). However, this does not seem to have caught on yet among the herpetological community as a whole, and some (Engelmann, Frynta and others) have resisted this change.

P. a. apoda
P. a. durvillii
Ophisaurus apodus, courtesy of Chris Davies.


Collins Field Guide: Reptiles & Amphibians of Europe, Arnold, Burton & Ovenden, Collins 1978, revised edition 2002/4. An invaluable guide for the English speaker.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, Walter Hellmich, Blandford Press, London 1962. Taxonomy is rather outdated but useful on details of appearance, habitat and subspecies.

"An Introduction to Reptiles and Amphibians of the Greek Islands", David Buttle, Reptilian 3:7. Very useful article not just for the distribution of herps in the area but also for ecology and details of lesser-known species.

Lurche und Kriechtiere Europas [Amphibians and Reptiles of Europe], Dr Wolf-Eberhard Engelmann, Jürgen Fritzsche, Dr sc. Rainer Günther and Dipl.Biol. Fritz Jürgen Obst, Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 1986. A German-language equivalent but with a rather wider definition of Europe which includes the Transcaucasus, and useful details on the distribution of subspecies. Now apparently out of print.


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