Aeolian wall lizard (Podarcis raffonei)
The Aeolian wall lizard is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A Critically Endangered reptile with a highly restricted range, the Aeolian wall lizard (Podarcis raffonei) is endemic to the island group after which it is named (2). It is a member of the Lacertidae family, a large family of typically small to medium-sized lizards that vary greatly in colouration (3).
Although very little specific information has been published on the appearance of the Aeolian wall lizard, it is likely to be similar to other lizards in the Lacertidae family in being fairly slender with well-developed limbs and a long, fragile tail (3) (4). Lizards in this family generally have large, symmetrically arranged scales on the head, as well as large eyes with fairly large, round pupils (3). The tongues of lacertid lizards are typically covered in rounded scale-like projections, called ‘papillae’, and a number of folds which are arranged in alternating rows (3) (4).
The Aeolian wall lizard is brown with a spotted throat (5). However, lizards in the Lacertidae family are well known for being highly variable in colouration, with many species appearing brown, grey, yellow, light-blue or green above, to light-blue, yellow, red, orange or green below (3). In many species, the tail is often a different colour to the body. Juveniles in the genus Podarcis, for example, often have green tails which contrast against a characteristically cryptically-coloured body (6).
The Aeolian wall lizard was previously considered to be the same species as the Sicilian wall lizard, Podarcis wagleriana (7).
The Aeolian wall lizard is endemic to the Aeolian Islands, northeast of Sicily (1) (2). It is restricted to just four islands, including the large island of Vulcano, as well as the three small, rocky islets of Strombolicchio, La Canna and Scoglio Faraglione (1) (2).
The volcanic islands on which the Aeolian wall lizard occurs are mainly rocky, containing patches of Mediterranean shrubland habitat (1).
Very little is known about the biology of the Aeolian wall lizard. Most lacertid lizards of the Mediterranean region are active foragers and have a rather generalist diet, preying on a wide variety of invertebrates (8). Lizards of the Lacertidae family are largely terrestrial, foraging mainly on the ground or in low shrubs and around the base of trees (4).
The Aeolian lizard is an egg-laying reptile (1). Like most lacertid species, it is likely to produce small clutches of less than ten eggs (4).
Reptiles in Europe and the Mediterranean face a number of severe threats, and recent estimates suggest that over 40 percent of Europe’s reptile populations are currently declining. The Aeolian wall lizard is one of six European lizard species to be classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List, meaning that these species face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild (9).
The Aeolian wall lizard occurs on just four islands, with the population on the largest island, Vulcano, thought to be particularly vulnerable due to competition with the Italian wall lizard, Podarcis siculus. As a result of its restricted distribution and its small, isolated populations, the Aeolian wall lizard is also under threat from chance natural disasters and disease, which could potentially wipe out the entire population of an island (1).
Island ecosystems are often more vulnerable than mainland ecosystems to other more general threats, such as habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species (2). In the Mediterranean region in particular, ongoing habitat destruction and other human activities have been identified as being of particular threat to Mediterranean reptiles, including the Aeolian wall lizard (10).
Collection for the pet trade may also be a threat to this species (1).
The Aeolian wall lizard is listed on Annex III of the Bern Convention, which aims to protect European species and their habitats (11). Although the area in which this species occurs is classed as a World Heritage Site, the Aeolian wall lizard is not found in any formally protected areas (1).
Recovery and captive breeding programmes are urgently needed to ensure the future conservation of the Aeolian wall lizard (1). Other conservation measures under consideration include increasing the population size by reintroducing the Aeolian wall lizard to larger islands in the Aeolian archipelago. More work is therefore needed on the genetic makeup and genetic diversity of the Aeolian wall lizard, so that future introduction or captive breeding programmes are properly informed (2).
Additional recommendations for the conservation of the Aeolian wall lizard include banning collection and trade for commercial purposes, as well as creating natural reserves on the four islands currently inhabited by this species. The islands should also be carefully monitored to ensure that no further introductions of predators or other competing non-native species occur (2).
Find out more about the decline of European reptiles:
IUCN - Europe’s amphibians and reptiles under threat:
Conservation International - Mediterranean survey finds native reptiles are vanishing:
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- Cryptic colouration: colouration that makes animals difficult to detect against their background, so serving to reduce predation. The colouration may provide camouflage against a background, break up the outline of the body, or both.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Genetic diversity: the variety of genes within a particular species, population or breed causing differences in morphology, physiology and behaviour.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
- Capula, M. (2004) Low genetic variation in a critically endangered Mediterranean lizard: conservation concerns for Podarcis raffonei (Reptilia, Lacertidae). Italian Journal of Zoology, 71(S1): 161-166.
- Ananjeva, N.B., Orlov, N.L., Khalikov, R.G., Darevsky, I.S., Ryabov, L.S. and Barabanov, A.V. (2006) An Atlas of the Reptiles of North Eurasia: Taxonomic Diversity, Distribution, Conservation Status. Pensoft Publishers, Bulgaria.
- Zug, G.R., Vitt, L.J. and Caldwell, J.P. (2001) Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Academic Press, London.
- Gibson, C. (2010) Wild Animals. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- Castilla, A.M., Gosá, A., Galán, P. and Pérez-Mellado, V. (1999) Green tails in lizards of the genus Podarcis: do they influence the intensity of predation? Herpetologica, 55(4): 530-537.
- Sindaco, R., Doria, G., Razzetti, E. and Bernini, F. (2010) Atlas of Italian Amphibians and Reptiles. Edizioni Polistampa, Italy.
- Lo Cascio, P. and Capula, M. (2011) Does diet in lacertid lizards reflect prey availability? Evidence for selective predation in the Aeolian wall lizard, Podarcis raffonei. Biodiversity Journal, 2(2): 89-96.
IUCN - Europe’s amphibians and reptiles under threat (October, 2011)
Conservation International - Mediterranean survey finds native reptiles are vanishing (October, 2011)
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2011)