Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado

  • English: Ocellated Lizard
  • Spanish: Lagarto ocelado or Lagarto
  • Portuguese: Sardão
  • Family: Lacerta
  • Distribution: Iberia, southern and western France, noth west Italy
  • Classification: Formerly classified as Lacerta lepida and now a species of Timon, a genus of lizard sometimes regarded as a subgenus of Lacerta, both of which belong to the family of Lacertidae (the wall lizards). They are commonly referred to as “ocellated” due to the eyelike spots of colour on the body.
  • Timon lepidus lepidus – Most of Spain and Portugal. Present where the other sub-species are not present.
  • Timon lepidus ibericus – North-western Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) Their teeth are not arranged the same as the other sub-species, being more aligned and becoming larger and irregular towards the back of the mouth.
  • Timon lepidus nevadensis – South-Eastern Spain. They are duller in colour; their head also seems more pointed.
  • Timon lepidus oteroi Extreme North-Western Spain.
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado

The ocellated lizard is the largest lizard resident in Europe growing to an adult size between 40 to 60 centimetres and sometimes reaching 90 centimetres. Generally, two thirds of the length is taken up by the thick tail. The legs, especially the hind legs, are muscular and strong, with long curved and sharp claws. The sides of the body are decorated with blue spots (especially during breeding season) and the back is a mixture of greens, browns, yellows and reds. The throat and belly, particularly of the males, are yellow. Adult males generally have more blue spots and always a larger, wider head.

Often though, you need to see both sexes at the same time to tell the difference between male and female. Females are generally smaller and sometimes have no blue spots at all. A long lived reptile they can live for as much as 25 years given a lot of luck and agility.

The species is found throughout almost all of Iberia, (plus Mediterranean France and southern Italy) and prefers habitats that are open to the sun, rocky scrub, olive plantations and grasslands. Juveniles seem especially at home close to dry river beds, lakes and water courses but adults seem to thrive in the driest of terrains. Territorial area is usually quite small and localised colonies can be made up of breeding adults, juveniles and young. When disturbed they will quickly run to the nearest cover or return to their burrow amongst tree roots or under a large rock.

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado A female (I think!) emerging from her burrow.

Telling the difference between the sub species is very difficult but the geographical position will help. (See classification list at top). In reality only a capture and close inspection will reveal the true identification. Beware though as an adult can inflict a very painful bite which almost always festers and takes an age to heal!

Diet is very varied and made up of large insects, beetles and spiders, on occasion bird’s eggs, baby birds, small mammals, other lizards and small snakes. Fruits and berries will be eaten when available as well. Rabbit burrows are often occupied which of course means that a constant supply of young rabbit is available.

Breeding occurs in late spring and early summer, often accompanied by violent fights between males over territory and the right to mate with a female. Generally 5 to 12 eggs are laid between June and July in the ground and the incubation period is about 3 months. The young start to emerge during the month of September giving them only a few short weeks to find a food supply and a suitable safe place to hibernate through the winter.

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado Juvenile with the unmistakeable spotty body.

Hibernation takes place from October until March or April depending on seasonal temperatures

The Ocellated lizard is preyed upon by Eagles such as Short toed (aguila culebrera) Circaetus gallicus. Large snakes will take young and juveniles but a fully grown adult only has one real enemy, man, and although reasonable populations are present in Spain and Portugal there has been a substantial decline in many areas due to habitat loss and persecution by hunters that fear the lizard eats all of the partridge eggs and young rabbits.

Lacerta (Timon) lepida – Lagarto ocelado - Large male
Lacerta (Timon) lepida – Lagarto ocelado – Large male

In the past larger lizards were hunted and eaten as well. A lizard stew in garlic and tomato sauce may sound tasty but beware as the main ingredient is now a protected species!


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