By Brendan G O’Sullivan
Editor: Donal Hickey
There he was, sunning himself on a flat stone on a fence at the back of the garden. He looked at me with suspicion and fear and I at him with surprise and delight. Neither of us as much as blinked, both rooted to the spot sizing each other up. It must have been twenty years since I had last seen an earc luachra, the Irish name by which we always knew the viviparous or common lizard; Ireland’s only native terrestrial lizard. He looked like a miniature crocodile complete with scales and long tail and must appear just as terrifying to the insects and grubs on which he feeds. Lizards were more numerous when I was young and we regularly saw them basking by the side of the road as we walked home from school on sunny afternoons. Even though lizards are fairly widespread many people, particularly urban dwellers, have never seen these shy and elusive creatures in real life.
Being cold blooded creatures (ectotherms), lizards have no internal temperature regulation system and rely on environmental heat sources to regulate their body temperature. They bask in the sun to warm up their bodies so that they can go about their normal activities and withdraw to cover when they need to cool down. Early mornings can be a good time to spot this creature as it warms up for the day ahead Lizards go into a semi-hibernation or brumation during the winter months becoming active again from March. The name ‘Viviparous’ comes from the fact that this lizard bears live young, which is relatively uncommon in the lizard world where most produce their young by laying eggs.
Lizards are prey to any larger predator including domestic cats, particularly when they are cold and sluggish before they have warmed up. They do have one escape trick that helps them evade predators. If caught by the tail, lizards can shed the end portion leaving a confused predator with a twitching stump while the lizard makes good its escape. It can soon grow a new tail.
As I stood there staring at him I reached into my pocket ever so slowly to get my mobile phone for a photograph. As I was withdrawing my phone I was thinking that perhaps I could get a selfie with him as well! The sun glinted on my phone and in a flash he was gone, scurrying into a crevice in the fence. I returned to the spot several times in the subsequent days but to no avail, he had obviously found a more private and secluded basking place.