Distribution: Iberia excluding the northern Atlantic coastal stretch. South west France.
English name: Large or Algerian Psammodromus
Scientific name: Psammodromus algirus (Linnaeus 1758)
Castilian: Lagartija Colilarga
When to see them: The Large, or Algerian Psammodromus is the most numerous of the lizard species found in Iberia. They can be active throughout the year if the temperature exceeds 15 degrees, only hibernating in areas where the temperature drops lower than this. They are generally diurnal but may also be out on summer nights.
The Large Psammodromus lizard is a long, slender lizard which has incredible agility and speed. Their tails are very long and slim sometimes up to twice the length of the body, it’s limbs are also long and thin allowing short burst of high speed. It’s head is slightly pointed.
The lizard’s back is a soft milk-chocolate brown colour and there are two creamy -yellow stripes running down each flank. The back legs up to the base of the tail are a soft rust-orange colour. The body scales are somewhat ‘jagged’ keeled, pointed and almost upturned on each scale end.
Their subtle colouration camouflages them in the habitats they frequent, against the soil and dried vegetation under shrubs in forests, woodland or more open scrubland. They may be seen out in the open, but generally stick fairly close to shrubs that they can hunt through and use as cover and shelter.
Psammodromus lizards are very agile and climb nimbly through shrubs and hedges, sometimes giving away their position as they rustle through dry leaves.
This species adapts readily to a variety of habitats from sea level up to around 2600m in altitude in the warmer southern areas of their distribution range.
We are generally fortunate to have Psammodromus lizards living within or very close to our garden and I see them fairly fequently, particularly during the spring and early summer. One individual has been seen regularly for several years now, around the area in front of our terrace where it occasionally venture out from beneath the santolina shrubs there to hunt on the grass or up through the shrub itself and the taller cypress behind it.
Their diet consists mainly of arthropods – beetles, spiders, grasshoppers and ants, they will also eat other small lizards and fruit or seeds.
Breeding begins in the spring and there may be two or rarely three clutches consisting of between 2 to 11 eggs. The incubation time can vary from one to six weeks with the young appearing from August through to October. The young are 2.5 to 3cm in body length and have the same colouration and patterns as the adults. This species may live up to 7 years, reaching their sexual maturity when they are two years old.
I was very fortunate to witness a pair mating in my garden last May (2010). The ritual didn’t last long which is probably just as well as it looked to be rather uncomfortable for both the male and the female. It is possible to just make out blue spots on the side of the male, just above his forelimbs, although they are a little worn. The males may also show red / yellow colouring on their faces during the breeding season.
Predators and defensive habits
Their main threat comes from snakes as they often share habitat with the Montpellier snake. Otherwise they may be eaten by birds of prey, particularly the Short-toed, or Snake Eagle, and they are also frequently killed on the road.
If threatened the lizard tries first to flee, but if caught they sometimes squeak and the adults always open their mouths and show off the inside of it.