Last updated 27 December 2014: updated section on the recent changes to the classification of the Lacertidae, as well as making a few slight amendments and updating the Links section.

A Guide To


and other members of the family Lacertidae


Lacertids is a term that is more or less synonymous with the lizards of the family Lacertidae, particularly the Lacerta species themselves. Most Europeans will probably unconsciously think of a lacertid if the word "lizard" is mentioned, and indeed Lacertids are very much an Old World family, centred in Europe (not a continent renowned for its reptiles) but also with species in Africa and Asia. Many make good pet lizards, but there is still no single popular English language book dedicated to them, unlike the more widely kept Leopard Geckos, Blue-Tongued Skinks and Bearded Dragons, for example.

What follows is a rough guide to the Lacertidae family, its genera and species, with a special emphasis on the Lacerta and Podarcis species. The data herein has been compiled from several sources, and also from a bit of personal experience with these marvellous lizards.

The family Lacertidae

Lizard taxonomy (classification) is in a state of flux at the moment, and a number of traditional designations have been overthrown in the last few years, both by fairly certain methods (eg mitochondrial DNA testing) and the more controversial "splitting", whereby established groupings are broken up into smaller units and further subspecies are added, often on the basis of unsure characteristics such as colouring. This guide will try to give both the long-established species names and the new ones.

The Lacertidae are members of the infraorder Scincomorpha, a group that also includes the skinks (Scincidae), cordylids or sungazers (Cordylidae), plated lizards, zonosaurs and relatives (Gerrhosauridae) and tegus and racerunners (Teiidae), plus the lesser known night lizards (Xantusiidae) and dibamids (Dibamidae). As the name "scincomorph" implies, most of these lizards have similar shaped bodies, ie skink-like, although the night lizards outwardly might seem to resemble geckos. Unlike skinks, however, lacertids are fairly conservative in structure, with little or no limb reduction and a fairly similar body design throughout the different genera: pointed snout, long whiplike tail and sexual differentiation through colour and pores, and often jowls in older males. Most are egg layers.

The table further down should, strictly speaking, be divided into two subfamilies, the Gallotiinae (Gallotia and Psammodromus) and Lacertinae (all the rest) (see also 2009 Update further down).

Characteristics of the family

Lacertids are characterised by the following traits:

A smaller lower eyelid window is found in L. perspicillata and in the genera Philochortus, Latastia and Holaspis. Ophisops has an entirely transparent eyelid.

Distribution of the family

Lacertidae are most often associated with Europe (at least in the minds of Europeans!), but it remains true that seven genera in the family are found on that continent if one takes Turkey as part of Europe. Lacerta are found in every part of the continent, including the fairly reptile-free areas such as Ireland and Scandinavia, and Podarcis is a large European genus whose species furthermore have in some cases a very high number of subspecies.

There is a surprisingly large number of little-known Lacertidae genera in Africa. Most of these seem to be based in East Africa, but some have spread as far as North, West and Central Africa. There is little information commonly available on these interesting lizards, partly no doubt due to the difficult climatic, geographical and political conditions of the continent, but also due to the shy or secretive nature of many of these species. It is an interesting anomaly that in southern Africa, separated from their European, North African and Asian brethren, exist eight genera of the Lacertidae. How this separation came about is still uncertain. Nor have these lizards greatly diverged in form from their more northerly relatives.

Asia is somewhat underrepresented since - depending on one's definition of Asia - there are really only two or three genera of Asian lacertids, of which only Takydromus, the Grass Lizards, can be considered tropical. Nevertheless these are widespread and found as far afield as Indonesia. Eremias has a wide distribution in the colder parts of Asia, being found in the steppes from its most westerly point in SE Europe as far east as Mongolia and China. The genus Timon is placed here also since it is little known and two of its three species occur in Turkey, which might just qualify as Asia. This would be less anomalous if the genus did not also include (according to some authorities, including EMBL) the Ocellated Lizard Timon lepidus (formerly known as Lacerta lepida) of southern France, northern Spain and northern Italy.

For those wishing to consider the lacertids by rough area of distribution and/or genus size, I offer the following table:

The archetypal lacertid lizards


The "new" lacertids (formerly Lacerta species)

Darevskia, Timon

The wall lizards


The lacertids of the Canary Islands


The lesser-known European lacertids

Algyroides, Psammodromus

The African lacertids I: non-South African genera

Adolfus, Gastropholis, Heliobolus, Holaspis, Latastia, Philochortus, Poromera, Pseuderemias

The African lacertids II: South African genera

Austrolacerta, Ichnotropis, Meroles, Nucras, Pedioplanis, Tropidosaurus

North African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian lacertids

Acanthodactylus, Eremias, Mesalina, Ophisops

The tropical Asian lacertids


Availability and Breeding

Time was when virtually all European hobbyists started in their youth by keeping one of the European Lacerta or Podarcis species. The change of political and ecological climate have however caused a complete alteration of the situation, so that nowadays aspiring lizard keepers are far more likely to keep admittedly non-difficult species from Central Asia or Australia, while lacertids are now seen as a specialisation rather than a stepping stone. At present members of the Lacerta and Podarcis genera are still seen in the pet trade, albeit infrequently, along with a number of Takydromus and a very much smaller number of Eremias (the latter being reportedly difficult to keep alive, being short-lived in the wild in any case). At the moment virtually all non-European individuals (South African species are all prohibited from export) are wild-caught, and while this does not seem to be placing a strain on the indigenous populations, in the interests of conservation we ought to be making every effort to produce more captive offspring. This is especially so as nearly all European lizards are now protected by law, while those in Africa and Asia are subject to ongoing environmental degradation of their habitats and political uncertainty.




Acanthodactylus, Fringe-Fingered Lizards

Adolfus, Forest Lizards

Algyroides, Algyroides

Austrolacerta, Rock Lizards

Darevskia, Rock Lizards

Eremias, Steppe Runners

Gallotia, Canary Island Lizards

Gastropholis, Keel-Bellied Ground Lizards

Heliobolus, Bushveld Lizards

Holaspis, Blue-Tailed Tree Lizard

Ichnotropis, Rough-Scaled Lizards

Lacerta, Green Lizards

Latastia, Long-Tailed Lizards

Meroles, Desert Lizards

Mesalina, Tiger Lizards

Nucras, Sandveld Lizards

Ophisops, Snake-Eyed Lizards

Pedioplanis, Sand Lizards

Philochortus, Orange-Tailed Lizards

Podarcis, Wall Lizards

Poromera, Striped Lizard

Pseuderemias, Greater Racerunners

Psammodromus, Psammodromus

Takydromus, Asian Grass Lizards

Timon, Jewelled Lizards

Tropidosaurus, Mountain Lizards



Common Name


No. of Species


Family Lacertidae


Fringe-Fingered Lizards

Europe, Mediterranean, C Asia and Middle East




Forest Lizards






Mediterranean basin




Rock Lizards

South Africa




Rock Lizards

Asia Minor, Caucasus and Middle East 




Steppe Runners

Mediterranean basin, Middle East and Asia


Includes subgenera Ommateremias, Pareremias, Rhabderemias, Scapteira


Canary Island Lizards

Canary Islands




Keel-Bellied Ground Lizards





Bushveld Lizards





Blue-Tailed Tree Lizard





Rough-Scaled Lizards

Southern Africa




Green Lizards

Europe and Mediterranean


Includes subgenera Apathya, Archaeolacerta, Omanosaura, Teira, Timon, Zootoca - some or all of these are now often considered as full genera


Long-Tailed Lizards





Desert Lizards

Southern Africa 




Tiger Lizards





Sandveld Lizards

Southern Africa 




Oman Lizards



Formerly considered members of Lacerta until 1986.


Snake-Eyed Lizards

Europe and Mediterranean 




Sand Lizards

Southern Africa 




Orange-Tailed Lizards





Wall Lizards

Europe and Mediterranean 




Striped Lizard





Greater Racerunners






Europe and Mediterranean 




Asian Grass Lizards





Jewelled Lizards

Europe, Mediterranean basin, Asia Minor and Iran 


Until recently treated as a subgenus


Mountain Lizards

Southern Africa 




Viviparous or Common Lizard

Europe through to E Asia (not Japan)


Until recently treated as a subgenus

Changes in the 21st century

In 2007 Arnold, Arribas and Carranza published a new work on the classification of Lacertidae, “Systematics of the Palaearctic and Oriental lizard tribe Lacertini (Squamata: Lacertidae: Lacertinae), with descriptions of eight new genera”. Their work was based on DNA sequencing, and broke the genus Lacerta down into several more genera. The results, together with other changes in the past 30 years or so to Lacerta, are reproduced here:

2014 update

The Reptile Database confirms most of the changes listed in 2009 (see above), with the following exceptions:

Over time we will probably update these pages to reflect these changes, which now seem to be widely accepted.


For the hobbyist there does not seem to be a single contemporary English-language book devoted to the Lacertidae, either their care in captivity or their natural history in the wild. However, several books offer sections on their care or ecology, and the Internet has proven to be a useful source of taxonomic information, especially the ever-reliable Reptile Database, which has a slender but very useful reference at the end.

Collins Field Guide: Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, 2nd edition 2002. Follows the fairly conservative approach I have adopted here, ie most of the lacertids are still Lacerta or Podarcis.

Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Bill Branch, Struik, Cape Town 1998.

PraxisRatgeber: Eidechsen, Manfred Rogner, Edition Chimaira 2002, Frankfurt am Main. This German-language book is so far the only one I know that is dedicated to the Lacertidae, including their husbandry and breeding. It covers all the genera, although some (notably the Africans) are discussed fairly generally and briefly. The major European species are well covered and a bonus is a listing of each genus and species at the back of the book. Hopefully the publishers will produce an English translation soon.

A-Z of Lizard Care
, Bartlett & Bartlett, Barrons, 1995. Good but brief sections on a few Lacerta lizards.

Keeping and Breeding Lizards, Mattison, Blandford 1996. A good chapter on the entire Lacertidae family that covers many of the lizards, even some not normally seen in captivity.

Echsen [Lizards] Vol 2, Rogner, Ullmer Verlag, 1992. Usually a very good source of information, although it has been pointed out to me by one source in at least one section there was a "theoretical" guess as to the captive requirements of a particular species that is in reality very hard to keep alive.

Animal Life Encyclopedia Volume 6: Reptiles, Grzimek,1975.

Links is an excellent site, the chief drawback for English speakers being that it is in German.

The Higher Taxa in Extant Reptiles page of the Reptile Database contains a good summary, a phylogeny and a bibliography. I am indebted to the database for some of the information on this page concerning recent taxonomic changes.


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