We’ve covered a lot of ground on this journey of ours exploring the wealth of wildlife that can be encountered on our Norfolk commons.
We’ve looked at iconic birds, amphibians, flowers, insects and mammals; rummaging through the undergrowth to search for beetles, cupping our ears to listen for turtle doves, carefully treading through flower bedecked meadows to catch sight of beetles and butterflies.
Now we need to really concentrate. We need to utilise those senses of ours to catch sight or sound of creatures that whilst not rare can be awfully difficult to spot. Let’s take a walk.
We’re looking for lizards, two species, about as different as nature could make them. One is a quick moving, agile reptile; alert and suspicious of any alien movement and ready to scurry into cover on its four long toed feet. It loves nothing better than to bask in the sunshine, soaking up the rays of that golden orb to fuel its energetic lifestyle: it is the common lizard.
The other is an altogether more laid back beast; generally shunning sunlight, happiest spending its time in a humid atmosphere sedately resting or hunting around a compost heap or under fallen logs. Snake like in appearance, with no outward sign of legs it is the very antithesis of what a lizard should be: it is of course the slow worm.
We can choose grassland commons, heaths, coastal dunes or woodland. If we’re quiet and proceed slowly, no sudden movements, we stand a good chance of coming across a common lizard basking on a gatepost or exposed area of sun-baked ground. It’s best to stop every few metres and scrutinise the ground ahead, especially exposed rocks or stumps, looking for the outline of these small beasts against their chosen perch.
We’re looking for something about 15cm long, brownish-grey, or maybe greenish or even yellow with rows of black spots and stripes along the back. Small, black beady eyes, ever vigilant, will be looking for the slightest movement of insect of spider prey and can easily detect us if we‘re not careful.
Once found, it will be possible to slowly approach, making sure your shadow doesnt fall on the lizard for then it will be sure to scurry away very quickly.
Now we’re close we can admire the beautifully hexagon-scaled skin, subtley shading from white, through cream, buff to milk chocolate. The scales differentiate the lizards from superficially similar amphibians like newts. Look closer still and there‘s a good chance you will see mites attached to the lizard’s skin, small, round protrusions, blood red and swollen. The lizard’s five-toed feet are well adapted for swift movement through all manner of dense grasses and undergrowth where these animals will go about their lives largely undetected by us clumsy, noisy humans. Unspoiled commons provide ideal habitat, rich in thick cover and prey, where these prehistoric looking creatures can thrive.
Ok then, the first of our targets has been safely seen. Now for the really difficult one: slow worms, essentially legless lizards, which can be very difficult to find because they generally spend their time skulking in under deep cover.
They should not be confused with the much larger snakes; they have a smooth light brown skin, faintly patterned with rows of shallow zig-zagged darker lines. Males are generally lighter in tone than females and can sometimes have blue spots. Females have darker side markings and a narrow line along the back. These enigmatic animals can be found in dense grassland, woodland and even in large mature gardens and allotments where they can hunt slugs, snails and other invertebrates.
In fact probably the best way to find them, especially if you have a garden adjacent to wilder habitat is to provide artificial hideaways, a sheet of thick roofing material or maybe plywood positioned in a sheltered spot may well attract them.
Both species emerge from hibernation in early spring with mating taking place in April or May. The females give birth to live young normally during July then spend the rest of the summer stocking up before hibernating in crevasses in stonework, under logs or similar shelter between November and the following spring.
We are lucky that we have these fantastic commons with their mosaic of habitats in which to ramble.
The warm summer months are ideal times to look for these reptiles, both species are widespread in Norfolk although neither is as common as they once were. If you do look for slow worms please don‘t try to handle them and be sure to lift and replace their cover carefully. They are protected by law and must not be harmed in any way.
Dont forget to send your records to us – we’ll be delighted to know what you discover.