First added 19 June 2001. Updated 3 June 2006 with extensive update of P. algirus and link to European Herps.

A look at the Family Lacertidae


Psammodromus Lizards/Sandracers


Psammodromus or Sand Racers are clustered around the end of the Western Mediterranean, from southern France through Iberia to North Africa. They are often associated with seashores.

The genus is more closely related to the Gallotia lizards of the Canary Islands (with which it forms the subfamily Gallotiinae) than to the other lacertid genera, which constitute the subfamily Lacertinae.

KKS give the following characteristics for Psammodromus: nostril between two nasal, in contact with 1st labial or separated only by a narrow rim; collar absent or feebly marked; a short fold in front of the arm; back covered with large rhomboild, strongly keeled and imbricate scales; ventrals imbricate; femoral pores present.

Psammodromus algirus, Large Psammodromus Psammodromus blanci, Blanc's Psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus, Spanish Sand Racer
Psammodromus microdactylus, Green Psammodromus    

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
P. algirus Large Psammodromus, Algerian Sandracer [E: largatija colilarga] S France, Iberia (except most of N Atlantic coast); Conigli Island near Lampedusa; NW African coast SVL 8cm, TL 31cm P. algirus is the largest member of this genus. In Spain it may be in places the most numerous lizard, in North Africa even one of the most common reptiles, although its shyness and muted coloration may make it overlooked by most people. It inhabits stony and sparsely-vegetated areas that catch the sun, and can also be found near human habitations, eg sunning itself on fences, as well as in mountain woods up to 2,400m above sea level. It is common in jarales, a sort of bush. It also hibernates in holes and crevices in stone walls, and otherwise usually shelters to a shallow depth beneath bushes. Unusually for a lacertid, it has large rhomboid-shaped keeled scales. The tail accounts for about ¾ of the length of this lizard. Both sexes have blue spots (one or two) on the shoulders: those of the male are more intense. Males are usually larger, and breeding males have a red throat and red cheeks. Prey for all stages of the lizard is insects, which the species is more likely to chase than to ambush. Good climbers, they may hunt in the bushes. Activity is diurnal, mainly in the morning and afternoon, and in Spain seasonal activity is highest in spring (April-May) and autumn, with a drop in summer: in Alicante individuals may still be abroad in winter, but in Oran hibernation takes place from November to February-March. If picked up, P. algirus makes high whistling sounds: it may also squeak during rival combats and mating. Click here for a picture. There is some debate as to whether the different subspecies listed below are actual subspecies or simply different colour forms. Scalation details: nasal orifice in contact with rostral; 1 postnasal only; parietals separated by occipital and interparietal. 3-5 (usually 4) supralabials in front of the subocular, 5th (sometimes 4th or 6th) contacts eye. Large temporal and supratemporal scales; no differentiated maseterica, but has large tympanic scale. Gular scales strongly imbricated; lacks collar. Dorsal scalation: large, imbricated and strongly keeled, in 30-36 rows at midbody, similar to those on the flanks. Upper scales on tail are keeled. Ventral scalation: not clearly differentiated from the scales on the flanks of the body. Other: 13-21 femoral pores on each side. Coloration: dorsally light brown, coppery brown or olivish; 1-3 bluish axillary spots on each side of the body. There are 2 superciliary lines and 2 of the supralabials are whitish or yellowish. A dark band runs between the supralabial and the superciliary. Many individuals have a dark vertebral line with a pale line on either side. Other individuals may comletely lack any pattern. Ventrally whitish or yellowish. Reproduction: Mating takes place in April-May. Breeding males turn a brilliant orange to red on the throat and sides of the head. See Salvador and KKS for details of mating. In May females lay 3-11 eggs, 15-20 days after mating; there may be a second clutch later in the summer, as Salvador reports that gravid females are found in Alicante from April to July. The young hatch in July-August (and from the later clutch, as late as October) and are the same colour as the adults. B I
P. a. algirus Iberia, S France European form.
P. a. doriae Algeria (Galita Island) Melanistic form.
P. a. nollii W Algeria 6 light stripes
P. a. ketamensis Morocco Found in the Ketama valley in the Rif mountains.
P. blanci Blanc's Psammodromus NW Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco) ?"  
P. hispanicus Spanish Sand Racer S. France, Iberia 4-5" Smaller than but substantially similar to P. algirus. Often seen on sandy seashores.
P. microdactylus Green Psammodromus Morocco ?" The Green Psammodromus derives its common name from its coloration, which is overall dark brown-black but with two vivid green dorsal and two lateral stripes running the length of its body. In addition it has a pale yellow-green stripe which runs from behind the eye nearly up to the front leg.


Grzimek, Reptiles

Echsen 2, Rogner, Ulmer 1992

Collins Field Guide: Reptiles & Amphibians of Europe, Arnold, Burton & Ovenden, Collins 1978, revised edition 2002/4.

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.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Outstanding review of N African herpetofauna giving detailed account of each species.

Guia de campo de los anfibios y reptiles de la peninsula iberica, islas baleares y canarias [Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Iberian Peninsula, Balearic and Canary Islands], Alfredo Salvador, Madrid. ISBN: 84-86238-07-2. Excellent book covering all reptiles and amphibians in the aforementioned areas. The one drawback for English speakers is that the text is Spanish. This book is unfortunately now out of print, but well worth purchasing if you can get a second hand copy.


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