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Have you spotted an increase in lizards? Northern Ireland has experienced a baby boom

By Claire Williamson

Published 23/08/2016

Four baby lizards at Slievenacloy. Picture: Philip McErlean Ulster Wildlife
Four baby lizards at Slievenacloy. Picture: Philip McErlean Ulster Wildlife

Have you spotted an increase in lizards about Belfast and further afield?

Well it could be due to the recent hot weather as some parts of Northern Ireland have experienced a lizard baby boom.

More than 40 common lizards, including 16 newborns were recently spotted sun-bathing in Slievenacloy Nature Reserve in the Belfast Hills in just three hours of observation.

They were spotted by Philip McErlean who took up surveying lizards across Northern Ireland in 2011 after he retired.

Common or 'viviparous' lizards are the only reptile native to Ireland.

Philip said: “During the summer, there is a great boost to numbers, with lots of little dark-coloured, baby lizards making an appearance.

“This partly accounts for the large number seen on my recent visit to Slievenacloy. Last year, the poor spring and summer weather contributed to a huge drop in the birth rate.”

One of the ways the lizard adapts to survive in the cool climate is by hatching their eggs internally and giving birth to live young (viviparous) in late summer. They also hibernate during the winter.

Slievenacloy Nature Reserve, managed by local conservation charity Ulster Wildlife, provides an ideal home providing a good supply of insects for them to eat.

Nature Reserves manager with Ulster Wildlife Andy Crory said: “We always knew this special grassland site was a real hotspot for common lizards, but this year’s numbers were pretty exceptional – a good sign that we’re providing suitable habitat conditions. Most people, when they saw the pictures, were really surprised to find out we have lizards living in Belfast - in fact, a few thought we’d actually released them."

However the welcome boost in numbers is most likely only temporary as newborn lizards provide food for birds and other creatures.

It has been estimated that more than 90% fail to make it through the first year.

The common lizard is a protected species in Northern Ireland and is threatened by loss of habitat, wildfires, scrub encroachment and overgrazing, particularly in the Belfast Hills.

How to spot a lizard at Slievenacloy:

Choose a warmish day, find a south facing slope with patches of bare ground that warm up quickly, next to areas of cover into which the animal can flee if disturbed, and sit quietly and wait.

Elsewhere in Belfast, lizards can also be found at Divis, Black Mountain, Cave Hill and Ballyaghagan. But keep your eyes peeled as they are also present in every county in Northern Ireland.

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