Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lizards and Frogs

This is the viviparous lizard, Ireland’s only widespread reptile species. Its latin name is Zootoca vivipara, even though it used to be placed in the genus Lacerta. Its name ‘viviparous’ comes from the fact that it lays its eggs only moments before they are due to hatch. Most of the maturation occurs inside the female, most European reptiles lay their eggs well before they are ready to hatch. Interestingly some European populations of the same species lay their eggs as normal, presumably because bad weather is less of a threat to their eggs in those parts of the continent.
As such viviparous lizards are uniquely well adapted to places with remarkably little sunshine (such as Ireland) and can hibernate for much of the winter if their climate doesn’t allow them enough sunshine to maintain their body heat.

The individuals below where encountered in Ballycotton, Cork, where they seem quite at home in the long grass, basking whilst perfectly camouflaged with their surroundings. If something should grab them before they can make their escape their tail is designed to break off, allowing for the lizard to escape unharmed.
Viviparous lizards are common in Ireland (which coincidently is their other name, common lizard) but can be very hard to find, despite the fact that they live in many different habitats, forest, bog, cliffs, grassland, etc... I feel quite privileged to have gotten this close to this species and get these photographs which frankly I would have never thought possible. Usually one sees no more then a glimpse of this little lizard before it dissapears.

As well, here are some common frogs (Rana temporaria) I encountered a couple of months ago. These two frogs where nice enough to pose for my camera. Common frogs are one of three amphibian species in Ireland and are by far its most common. Interestingly of the three most common groups of amphibians, we have one of each, one newt (common/smooth), one toad (natterjack) and one frog (common). Compared to even England that’s very little (slowworm, common lizard, grass snake, common toad, natterjack, common frog, pool frog, great crested newt, smooth newt, the list goes on...). The reason for this lack in diversity has a lot to do with the fact that Ireland has long been isolated from the rest of Europe and many species did not have opportunity to spread here. Snakes are a prime example of common European species that simply never made it across the sea.

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