How to tell the difference between sand lizards & common lizards

John Grundy News, Revealing Reptiles

Not that you are going to see sand lizards in the wilds of County Durham to be honest, but it is always good to know what to look for, so that you can confirm what it is you are looking at.

The UK has two distinct forms of sand lizard, the Southern heath and Western coast colour morphs. The Southerners are more closely akin to their European counterparts with the males having heavily mottled green flanks, like the one pictured below;

German male sand lizard on a log pile in the orchards of the Swabian Alps.

The Western coast race have a more uniform green flank without the heavy occeli or eye-like markings. Female sand lizards are brown all over but again their sides are a paler brown than their back.

Female sand lizard with brown back and tan sides

Reports come in now and again of sand lizards in Northumberland or from other parts of the country where they don’t naturally occur. This misidentification stems from some male common lizards having greenish backs where most common lizards are varying shades of brown. The major difference is that the sand lizards have their colour on the flanks not the back. It is opposite in common lizards.

Female common lizard showing typical dark brown flanks.


Greenish-coloured male common lizard.

Even this greenish-coloured common lizard still has brown sides rather then a brown back and green sides. Adult sand lizards are also much bigger than adult common lizards.

Is this all making sense?

Why not come along to one of our upcoming reptile survey training events and learn more about how to survey for our region’s spectacular reptiles.

John Grundy

John has spent more than thirty years honing his skills as a spotter of our region’s elusive and well-camouflaged reptiles. He can often be found wandering the moors of Durham looking for signs of life in the undergrowth. As the Revealing Reptiles Project Officer John frequently delivers reptile survey training to groups and individuals.

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