I have spent my childhood in Ticino, on the south slope of the Swiss Alps, in a mountainous, rocky landscape with scattered vineyards and small gardens where lizards were very common. The boys at school used to build complicated tools with twigs and thread to catch (snare) the lizard – which needed a lot of patience – and then play circus with them.
The species were Lacerta vivipara (Common Lizard), L.agilis (Sand Lizard), Podarcis muralis (Common Wall Lizard) and the beautiful green(blue) “ramarro” , the Green Lizard (L. bilineata).
We also used to have Vipers (Vipera berus) in our back garden and as children we were reminded again and again not to go around barefooted and to walk stamping our feet when in the mountains (especially in early spring, when the snakes were slow, basking in the sun on the path, and would bite when taken by surprise).
In Ticino (and also on the slopes of the Jura hills and in Graubünden) every community council, doctor or even private person working regularly in the vineyards has somewhere in a fridge venum antiserum ready.
With this little picture of my experiences I just want to explain that I know a lizard when I see one and definitely not confuse them with newts (as somebody suggested to me, smile).
I arrived in N. Uist the last week of August and – as a friend of mine came to visit me that very week – spent most days walking and exploring the island. Our very first visit was to Balranald, Sunday 24th August, and it was there that my friend pointed out to me the lizard. I looked at it with a kind of “oh, that’s nice”-look, enjoying the familiar feeling it brought to me, but didn’t write anything in my notebook. In my ingenuity, not knowing much about the “reptilian situation” in the Islands I had really no idea how rare this sight would be. It was only attending John Love’s afternoon class on the “Natural History of the Hebrides” that I realized that probably it was worth mentioning it.
The lizard was basking in the sun in the very rocky part along the west beach in Balranald and dashed away very quickly when aware of our presence.
I have to admit that as all went very fast I’m not absolutely sure about the species. In my memory the lizard was quite grayish brown, pale, ca. 12 cm in length and I would say probably a female L.vivipara. Also in my memory I see very clearly that rocky part in Balranald. But: as we visited other localities on our walks there is a possibility that I mix up the spots.
What is absolutely sure is: it was a lizard and it was here on the islands and it was the last week of August ! (My friend left the 2nd of September).
The young develop over 3 months within the egg membranes inside the female’s body, which they usually break out of as she gives birth , hence the name “vivipara” (giving birth to live young). As the winter climate is milder here than in Switzerland and lizards hibernate it should be able to survive, but what about the “invertebrates diet” ?
If you want to know more about the species and its distribution, habitat, diet, behavior, other Lacerta species etc. go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/…. or http://www.ARKive.org/viviparous-lizard/biology
One source mentions:
“During early spring and late autumn (either side of hibernation) the viviparous lizard invests much of its time in basking in the sun.”
Which makes me feel quite envious; may we all do the same!