Have you got lizards in your garden? If you have, you’re lucky! These reptiles are a gardener’s friend, eating slugs and snails that would otherwise attack your plants. They also attract other wildlife into the garden, creatures such as frogs and toads that help to keep pests under control. Find out what lizards eat and how to encourage them onto your patch.
How Many Different UK Lizards Do We Have?
We only have six native reptile species in the UK. Three of these are lizards: the sand lizard, the common lizard and the slow worm. Yes, the slow worm is a lizard!
You aren’t likely to see the sand lizard in your garden as it’s very rare, but you may have common lizards. If you live close to moors, heath, the edges of woods or places that are undisturbed like railway banks or derelict areas, the chances are that common lizards aren’t far away. But the reptile you are most likely to see in your garden is the slow worm.
What Do Lizards Look Like?
Slow worms look shiny and grey-brown. They don’t have legs, which mean they are sometimes confused with snakes. Some females have a thin line down their back. Adults can grow to about 45cm long. Young slow worms are very thin. They are about 5cm long when they are born, with black bellies and gold or silver colours on their sides.
Common lizards are usually brownish-grey, with darker markings down their backs and sides. They grow to around 15cm long. Lizards move quickly when they are disturbed.
Easy Ways to Tell Your Lizards Apart:
- Slow Worms: Shiny. Grey-brown. No legs. They like compost heaps. Adult: 45cm.
- Common Lizards: Brown with dark patterns on back/sides. Fast movers. They love sunbathing. Adult: 15cm.
Legless Lizards That Lose Their Tails
Slow worms are often mistaken for snakes because they have no legs. Unlike snakes, they have eyelids. And in the same way as other lizards, they have incredible skill. They can leave their tail behind them to escape from a predator! This impressive move leaves their attacker looking at the tail, which continues to wriggle about after it has been shed, while the lizard escapes.
Slow Worms Love Slow Food
Gardeners like slow worms because they eat slugs. They also like snails, small insects and spiders, hunting for them during the day in the long grass. So, by leaving parts of your garden to grow wild, you might attract slow worms. Put a pile of logs in a sunny spot and see what turns up. Rotting plants in compost heaps give off warmth, so these are popular places for slow worms to hang out too.
What Do Common Lizards Eat? And What Eats Them?
Common lizards love to eat flies, spiders, grasshoppers and other small insects. They are superfast and agile, catching their prey with ease. Sometimes, larger animals such as frogs and toads will eat common lizards and slow worms. This is all part of a vital food chain in your garden. Frogs and toads are also good at keeping pests down – they love slugs and snails as much as lizards do.
How Can I Get Common Lizards to Come to My Garden?
You may already have slow worms in your compost heap. But common lizards like to live in sunny spots. As they are cold-blooded, all reptiles need a place to warm themselves up. If you have space, making a reptile bank is a great way to attract common lizards, as they love to bask out in the sun. You may already have a fantastic basking spot in your garden. An open south-facing area is perfect. If not, here’s how you can make one.
Six Steps to Make Top Lizard Sunbathing Spots
- Pick a good location. Choose a sunny place that doesn’t get walked in much where you are happy for the grass to grow longer.
- Figure out the shape and size. Your bank could be any shape but try long and straight, or crescent-shaped. If you have lots of space, your bank could be around 4 metres long, 2 metres wide and about 1 metre high. But it doesn’t have to be these big – smaller banks are still good sunning spots. Rockeries make great sunbathing spots for lizards.
- Choose your materials. You could use up building rubble, bricks, rocks, tree roots and cut timber. This pile of stuff will make good hibernating spots for reptiles and will soon be covered by vegetation.
- Build it well. Don’t put stuff that could rot away underneath rocks and bricks as your bank may collapse. Wood chippings and loose topsoil can be added to pack it all together.
- Get grasses and flowers growing on your bank. One way to quickly cover it is to remove the turf from the ‘footprint’ of the bank and use it to cover the mound. Sow wildflower seeds on top of the bank. Choose flowers that grow well in your local area. You want to get vegetation growing on top quickly for the lizards to hide in.
- Add some logs on top. These make great basking spots, and lizards can hide in them.
Slow worms don’t often sun themselves in the open as common lizards do. They prefer to hide under logs or in compost heaps. Make a log pile in your garden to keep your slow worms happy.
Checklist for a Perfect Reptile Bank:
- A sunny, quiet south-facing spot in the open
- Long grass or undergrowth nearby
- Bank materials – rocks, bricks, rubble, tree roots, cut timber, topsoil and wood chippings
- Turf to cover the bank
- The wildflower seed mix to grow on top
Please Don’t Harm the Lizards
Common lizards and slow worms are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell them. Sadly common lizards seem to be in decline, so making some space for them in your garden will help.