My workplace, like so many others in the UK has a very tight policy regarding internet and email use. The policy document is good and thick and everyone who uses computers, which is all of us, must abide by these guidelines to ensure our conduct is above board.
In the normal course of events things run like well-oiled clockwork; information passes into me and I churn a multitude of things outward. Sometimes however, things get caught inadvertently in the net. The way in which computer security systems work means that some documents I receive will contain flagged words, for example I was once sent a highly scrutinised report about woodland birds which contained too many references to the perennial favourite Parus major.
There are also some photos which are sent to me containing a large percentage of flesh tones. Autumnal heaths are notoriously tricky subjects for photo composure, and if some of the more heavy-handed IT filter systems are to be believed, they are also a hotbed for carnal imagery too. Seldom the case with the photos I receive, I assure you.
Sometimes however, a photo evades the censor’s scrutiny and I gets through to my inbox. One such snap dropped in to my email system last week from a trusted source, which I was only glad I opened in a deserted office, such was its content. I was moved to send it in to the local paper.
So what caused all the hubbub? This fabulous picture of a pair of mating lizards, that’s what. Despite their name, the common lizard is anything but common, and this behaviour is seldom seen, let alone captured on camera. The lucky cameraman photographed the pair in his garden, which is a timely reminder of the value of our backyards for wildlife.
As with another reptile which lives in northern climes, the adder, common lizards give birth to live young rather than lay eggs like most reptiles. Viviparity, the birth of live offspring, allows the lizard to control the temperature at which the developing young are exposed to, through behaviour of the gravid female. If she detects that her core tempertature is low, she can bask in an open position to raise her body temperature. If she is too hot, she will retreat to a shady spot and let herself cool down. In the cool climate of the UK, it is seldom overheating which is the problem!
The young are born in July, between 3 and eleven individuals in thin eggs sacks which split as soon as the female has deposited them. The tiny, dark coloured babies are immediately very agile and will dash off into their habitat to develop unaided by the parent.
Males and female common lizards can be told apart by the pale, less speckled body colour, and the female’s wider belly size, which can be seen to physically bulge with developing young towards the end of June.
If you are lucky enough to see a common lizard handled, then the brightly coloured belly of the male is stark contrast to the female’s paler and un-speckled tum. However, you should never attempt to handle a lizard in the wild, as they are very delicate, fast-moving and difficult to catch safely and unless you are well-practiced you are very likely to harm the animal if you try to grab at it.
Better to sit quietly and watch the lizard through binoculars. If you approach slowly and calmly, a common lizard will often allow you to approach it in its favourite basking position to within a few metres. Got too close, too quickly however and the lizard will disappear out of view into the vegetation nearby. However, do not lose heart, as they are dependable in their ensuing behaviour too. Back up a little and wait for the lizard to reappear. If you remain still, it will not notice you and will return to the same basking position as you found it in.
So to any of you budding photographers out there, by observing a little patience and guile, you can capture good close up photographs of lizards without the need to get too close or interfere with them. Just sit tight and wait for them to come back to you.
East Devon is blessed with many very good places for reptile watching, the pebblebed heaths are a haven for many species of reptile, particularly this little fellow. Look for them on prominent features, low to the ground like rocks, or logs in sheltered spots on south-facing exposures. As ever with wildlife watching, you will need to wander about sites slowly to increase you r chances of seeing anything, and listen out too as the characteristic sound of a common lizard dashing into heather is often the first clue to a lizard’s whereabouts.