Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus)

Ocellated lizard basking on rock in natural habitat
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Ocellated lizard fact file

Ocellated lizard description

GenusTimon (1)

Europe’s largest lizard (3) (4), the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) gains its common name from the bright blue, eye-like ocelli on the sides of its body (3) (6) (7). The upperparts and sides of the body are grey-green, with a sparse to heavy black pattern on the back (6). The body itself is robust (4), and two-thirds of the total body length is made up by the remarkably long tail (3) (6).

The male ocellated lizard is larger and bulkier than the female (3) (5) (6), with more vibrant colouration and a larger head. The juvenile also has a less vivid, green-yellow colouration, but is still strongly patterned with light, black-edged ocelli (3) (6). Although usually up to 70 centimetres, the ocellated lizard can grow up to 90 centimetres (2).

There are four known subspecies of the ocellated lizard, which vary in size, colouration and in their teeth: Timon lepidus ibericus, Timon lepidus lepidus, Timon lepidus nevadensis and Timon lepidus oteroorum (2) (4). Individuals from more northerly populations of the ocellated lizard tend to be smaller than those from the south (5)

Lezard Ocelle.
Lagarto Ocelado.
Male length: up to 70 cm (2)
Female length: c. 45 cm (2)

Ocellated lizard biology

The breeding season of the ocellated lizard begins in late spring to early summer (5). It is an oviparous species, with the female laying a single clutch of 5 to 22 eggs (1), usually at the beginning of June (9). The eggs begin to hatch from early September to mid-October (5).

An active, mainly terrestrial predator, the ocellated lizard hunts in large, open areas. Insects comprise the primary component of the ocellated lizard’s diet, with snails and small vertebrate animals also being taken, as well as wild berries throughout the summer months (3) (9). This species is also known to climb trees to gain access to bird’s nests to eat the eggs (3).

In order to thermoregulate, the ocellated lizard spends large amounts of time basking in the area around its refuge (5).

A diurnal species (3), the ocellated lizard is particularly active between the months of April and September (3) (8), with hibernation occurring between November and late February in the southern parts of its range. In cooler regions, hibernation takes place up to two weeks earlier and finishes at the end of March. The ocellated lizard uses abandoned rabbit burrows, hollow trees or logs during this period of dormancy (3)


Ocellated lizard range

The ocellated lizard is primarily found in Portugal and Spain, with smaller populations in south-western France and north-western Italy. Populations are also found on a few Atlantic and Mediterranean islands (1) (2) (3) (7)


Ocellated lizard habitat

The ocellated lizard generally inhabits open, arid areas of pine (Pinus) or oak (Quercus) woodland, scrubland, olive groves, vineyards, meadows and dry grassland (1) (3) (5) (8). Bushes, stone walls, rabbit burrows and other holes are frequently used as refuges by this species (1).

Although hot, dry habitats with low vegetation are preferred, the ocellated lizard is also found in cool, moist areas in some regions (3) (4) (7). The ocellated lizard ranges from sea level to elevations of 2,000 metres in the Pyrenees (1) (3) (7).


Ocellated lizard status

The ocellated lizard is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Ocellated lizard threats

Habitat loss has been identified as a major threat to the ocellated lizard (1) (5), while pesticide pollution, poisoning (1) and forest fires also pose a serious threat to its populations in some parts of its range (8).

Rabbit populations have also decreased in certain areas of this species’ habitat, reducing the number of available burrows (5), and increasing the risk of predation from species that may have previously taken rabbits (1). The ocellated lizard is also persecuted by hunters and farmers who kill it in the belief that it is responsible for the decline in the rabbit population and for attacks on domestic bees (5).

Livestock grazing has also decreased within the ocellated lizard’s range, which has reduced the suitability of some open habitats in which it occurs. The ocellated lizard is sometimes taken for food, which may be detrimental to this species’ population (1)


Ocellated lizard conservation

In some areas, artificial refuges have been put in place to compensate for the lack of burrows created by the dwindling rabbit populations (5). The use of forest rangers and volunteers could also limit the risk to populations from forest fires (8). The ocellated lizard was present in some protected areas throughout its range, although it has disappeared from some of them (1).

The ocellated lizard is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention which aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats (10). Studies on population decline in the ocellated lizard may be able to provide the information necessary to implement appropriate conservation measures (1) (5). As a large and distinctive species, the ocellated lizard could also be proposed as a ‘flagship’ species for the conservation of Mediterranean habitats in some areas (8)

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Active during the day.
A winter survival strategy in which the animal passes the winter in a resting state. This period of inactivity is characterised by specific biological and biochemical changes including lowered blood pressure and respiration rate. In reptiles, this is also known as brumation.
An eyespot; an eye-like marking or spot of colour.
An animal that reproduces by laying eggs, which hatch outside the mother’s body.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
To control body temperature.
An animal with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Reptile Database (December, 2011)
  3. Roots, C. (2006) Hibernation. Greenwood Press, Connecticut, U.S.A.
  4. Yáñez, F.F. (2007)Thermoregulation and use of microhabitat by Timon lepidus (Daudin, 1802). MSc Thesis, International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation. Enschede, The Netherlands.
  5. Grillet, P., Cheylan, M., Thirion, J.M., Doré, F., Bonnet, X., Dauge, C., Chollet, S. and Marchand, M.A. (2010) Rabbit burrows or artificial refuges are a critical habitat component for the threatened lizard, Timon lepidus (Sauria, Lacertidae). Biodiversity and Conservation, 19: 2039-2051.
  6. Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P. (2008) Lizard Care From A to Z. Barrons Educational Series, New York.
  7. Holman, J.A. (1998) Pleistocene Amphibians and Reptiles in Britain and Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Salvidio, S., Lamagni, L., Bombi, P. and Bologna, M.A. (2010) Distribution, ecology and conservation status of the ocellated lizard (Timon Lepidus) in Italy (Reptilia, Lacertidae). Italian Journal of Zoology, 71: 125-134.
  9. Mateo, J.A. (2006) Enciclopedia Virtual de los Vertebrados Españoles. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain.
  10. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (December, 2011)

Image credit

Ocellated lizard basking on rock in natural habitat  
Ocellated lizard basking on rock in natural habitat

© Fabio Pupin / www.flpa-images.co.uk

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