Added as separate page 4 June 2006 and considerably updated details for Acanthodactylus.

Lizards of Europe - Acanthodactylus, Fringe-Fingered Lizard, and Ophisops, Snake-Eyed Lizard

This page covers two species which are the sole representatives of their genera in Europe. The Fringe-Fingered Lizard is found in the Western Mediterranean area, the Snake-Eyed Lizard in the Balkans and Transcaucasus.

Acanthodactylus erythrurus, Fringe-Fingered Lizard    
Ophisops elegans, Snake-eyed Lizard     

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Acanthodactylus erythrurus Fringe-Fingered Lizard [Es: Lagartija colirroja] C & S Iberia: N. Africa, W. Asia 8-8½" The only member of this genus found in Europe: other members of the genus also live in arid areas (North Africa and the Middle East). A. erythrurus lives on sandy ground and can tolerate hot conditions, being able to run over sand with a surface temperature of 50 deg. The common name derives from the fine fringes on its fingers which help prevent it from sinking in fine sand. Occupies or digs burrows in sand dunes, or shelters beneath stones. It is very timid. Scalation details: 2 large supraoculars, which correspond to the 2nd & 3rd, the 1st and 4th being broken up into small granules. 2 rows of granules between the supraoculars and the superciliaries. 6-8 granular superciliaries, of which the 1st is the largest. The anterior loreal is slightly larger than the posterior. 4 supralabials in front of the supraocular, which has an inconspicuous keel; 1st supralabial in contact with nostril. 1-2 large supratemporals. Temporal region formed by small smooth or slightly keeled scales. Tympanic shield present but small. Usually 5 pairs of submaxillaries, of which the first three are in contact. Gular fold absent. Collar angular or rounded, formed by 8-12 scales. ventral scales in 10 straight longitudinal rows. Other: lanceolate cavity from the frontonasal to the centre of the frontal; snout obtusely pointed, with an inconspicuous concave cavity in the loreal area; tail very enlarged at the base, especially in males. Coloration: dorsally overall ochre, brownish or grey, with up to 10 light longitudinal lines, between which are rows of spots, white or yellowish and grey to black. The limbs have white spots. The belly is white. In the breeding season males have round yellowish spots on the flanks. Coloration may be variable, especially in E Spain where animals frequently have reduced patterning, to the extreme of being almost monotone grey. The young Reproduction: females up to 3 years lay 4-6 eggs in hot sand in May-June: older females lay an additional clutch in July-August. Young hatch after 70-75 days and are 6cm long and brightly-coloured with a reddish tail. There are at least two other subspecies apart from the nominate, A. e. atlantica (Morocco only) and A. e. belli. A fairly scientific discussion of the reproduction of A. erythrurus in its northern boundary can be downloaded from the Russian Journal of Herpetology. also have good pictures of an adult and a juvenile from the same location. B I
Ophisops elegans Snake-eyed Lizard Transcaucasia, SE Balkans, esp. nr Svilengrad (Bul.) ?" Only one of the Ophisops genus (5 species) to be found in Europe: the rest live in W. Asia and NE Africa. Likes clay or stony slopes, bushy hillsides, open deciduous woods or vineyards. When disturbed, these lizards run from cover to cover and then pop up to look for the intruder. If then undisturbed for a short while, the lizard stands on its rear legs, supported by its tail, and makes a curious 'begging' motion, waving its forelimbs in the air and turning its head quickly from side to side. Other lacertids and indeed some agamids often display hand waving gestures, but this one seems more obscure. Occasionally Snake-eyed Lizards will also rear up on their hind legs and run a short distance rather like the North American Collared Lizard. Females lay 4-5 eggs twice a year, and possibly a third batch late in the summer. The young have striking longitudinal stripes. This species derives its name from an interesting adaptation of the eyelids, which like a snake's are fused together with a 'window' formed over the actual eye. Unlike a snake, however, this lizard can partially close its eyes as the lids remain capable of some movement.


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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