Viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

Viviparous lizard, head detail
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Viviparous lizard fact file

Viviparous lizard description

GenusZootoca (1)

The viviparous or common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is extremely variable in colour. Typically, the upperparts of the lizard are brownish with lines of darker markings passing along the back, which are often bordered with white or yellow. Individuals may occasionally have green, grey or reddish upperparts, which can cause problems with identification (2).

The male viviparous lizard has a bright underside, typically yellow or orange in colour, but more rarely red with black spots. In contrast, the female viviparous lizard tends to have much duller, paler underparts. Totally black forms occasionally arise in both sexes. In addition to the differences in belly colour, the male lizard can also be distinguished from the female by its much larger head, slender body, and by the possession of a prominent swelling at the base of the tail (2).

Also known as
Common lizard.
Lacerta vivipara.
Lagartija de Turbera.
Total length: 13 - 15 cm (2)

Viviparous lizard biology

This species is a cold-blooded (poikilothermic) reptile, and it must invest much of its time in basking in the sun, particularly during early spring and late autumn (before and after hibernation). When it first emerges in the morning, the body temperature of the viviparous lizard is typically around 15 degrees Celsius; however, this species’ optimum body temperature is 30 degrees Celsius, which is attained through basking and absorbing heat from the sun. Basking also occurs throughout the summer, when the lizard needs to warm itself up sufficiently in order to hunt, particularly on overcast or cool summer days (2).


Viviparous lizard range

The viviparous lizard has one of the widest ranges of any vertebrate. It is found throughout central and northern Europe, including Britain and Ireland, eastwards to the Pacific coast, from Sakhalin Island, Russia, to Hokkaido, Japan. It occurs as far south as the Mediterranean, and is the most northerly of all reptiles, inhabiting Scandinavia and Arctic Russia (2) (5).

Several subspecies have been described, and the viviparous lizard is likely to be a species complex that should be split into a number of separate species (1).


Viviparous lizard habitat

The viviparous lizard is found in a variety of habitats, and prefers open, sunny areas. It tends to occur in dry areas, but also frequents wet heaths, although its main habitats include commons, moorland, heaths, sea cliffs, dry stone walls and embankments. The viviparous lizard even occurs in tundra (2) (6).


Viviparous lizard status

The viviparous lizard is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed under Annex III of the Bern Convention (3) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Viviparous lizard threats

As a result of its extremely large geographical distribution and the wide range of different habitats and climates it inhabits, the viviparous lizard is not currently considered to be threatened (1).

However, some populations of this species are declining due to habitat loss, particularly as a result of agricultural intensification, urbanisation and tourism development (1).


Viviparous lizard conservation

The viviparous lizard is listed on Annex II of the Bern Convention (4) and Annex IV of the European Union Habitat and Species Directive (7), both of which aim to protect wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats. This species also occurs in numerous protected areas across its range (1).

The viviparous lizard is protected by national legislation in most of its range countries, and in Britain it is listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), protecting it against killing, injury and sale (8).

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

Find out more

For more on this species and other reptiles and amphibians found in the UK:



Authenticated (30/10/11) by Olivier S.G. Pauwels, Research Associate at the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.



A winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal's metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Animals in which the body temperature changes depending on the temperature of their surroundings.
A different race of a species, which is geographically separated from other populations of that species.
Treeless, grassy plains characteristic of Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. They are very cold and have little rainfall.
An animal with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Beebee, T. and Griffiths, R. (2000) The New Naturalist: Amphibians and Reptiles - A Natural History of the British Herpetofauna. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  3. The Environment Agency (1998) 'Look-up' Chart of Species and their Legal Status. Species and Habitats Handbook. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  4. Bern Convention (October, 2011)
  5. The Reptile Database (October, 2011)
  6. Szczerbak, N.N. (2003) Guide to the Reptiles of the Eastern Palearctic. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar.
  7. EU Habitats Directive (March, 2012)
  8. Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (March, 2012)

Image credit

Viviparous lizard, head detail  
Viviparous lizard, head detail

© Ross Hoddinott /

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