Lilford's wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordi)

French: Lézard De Lilford, Lézard Des Baléares
Spanish: Lagartija Balear
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyLacertidae
GenusPodarcis (1)
SizeAdult snout-vent length: 5 - 7 cm (2) (3)
Adult weight: 4.2 - 9.5 g (2)

Lilford's wall lizard is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

A small and endangered reptile of the Mediterranean, Lilford's wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordi) is endemic to the Balearic Islands, where it occurs in a number of fragmented populations on around 35 of the region’s island and islets (2) (5). It has a robust, streamlined, moderately depressed body and a fairly flattened head, with a wide neck and sharp snout. The body is covered in flat, rough, round or oval-shaped scales (3). The male Lilford's wall lizard is generally larger and stouter than the female (3).

In general, lizard species inhabiting islands and islets within the Mediterranean typically exhibit conspicuous variation in shape, size and colour of individuals among different populations (2) (5). Lilford's wall lizard is a striking example of this (2), and distinct populations of this species vary greatly, especially in their colouration (2) (3). In some populations, Lilford's wall lizards are uniformly brown or greenish-brown on the back, while in other populations the back may be green with dark blotches (2) (3). The back sometimes has dark, bluish or light spots or patterns, which may be clearly visible in some populations and faint or absent in others (2). The tail colour of Lilford's wall lizard is also highly variable, ranging from green or blue-green to brown or black. The throat and vent may be white or pale to deep blue (2).  

As well as being extremely variable among populations, the colour of Lilford's wall lizard also varies depending on age and sex (2) (3). In most populations, the adult female Lilford's wall lizard usually has a brownish back and a blue-green tail, with the underside often varying in colour. The juvenile is generally brownish on the back and green on the tail, with a white or pale blue vent (2). Adult male lizards tend to become progressively darker in colour as they age (3). Melanism has also been observed in some populations of Lilford's wall lizard (3).

Numerous subspecies of Lilford's wall lizard have been described as a result of the extensive variation in the appearance of individuals from different populations. Most of the subspecies are confined to single islets (2) (3) (5).

Lilford's wall lizard is endemic to the Balearic Islands of Spain (1) (3) (6). It is restricted to small, rocky islands and islets off the main islands of Mallorca and Menorca, as well as some islands of the Cabrera Archipelago, south of Mallorca (1) (6).

Around 43 individual, isolated populations of Lilford's wall lizard are known to occur, which are scattered on 35 islands and islets. Although it is extremely common on some of islands in its range, many of this species’ populations are comprised of only a few individuals, especially on the smaller islands (6). In the past Lilford's wall lizard occurred on Mallorca and Menorca; however, it is no longer found on either of these main islands (1) (3) (6).

Lilford's wall lizard is generally found in lowland areas, preferring arid, rocky and scrubland habitats (1).

Vegetation cover varies widely between the islands on which this species occurs. Mediterranean shrubland, known as ‘maquis’, is usually common on the larger islands, with the vegetation typically comprised of dense thickets of evergreen shrubs and small trees. Some of the smaller islands and islets inhabited by Lilford's wall lizard have little or no vegetation cover (3).

Lilford's wall lizard is an opportunistic, omnivorous species, and its diet varies seasonally depending on the availability of food resources (3). It forages mainly for insects, such as beetles, ants, moths and butterflies, as well as insect larvae (3) (7). It has also been observed performing kleptoparasitism (3) (8). During the summer, Lilford's wall lizard feeds almost exclusively on ants, although it will also take plant matter, including fruit pulp, pollen and nectar (3) (7). As a result, Lilford's wall lizard has been identified as a potential disperser of the seeds of several rare and endemic Mediterranean plants. This behaviour makes it highly important to the Mediterranean island ecosystem, especially in the Cabrera archipelago where it is one of the only remaining terrestrial vertebrates (9).

Although Lilford's wall lizard sometimes remains active year round, most individuals will enter a state of torpor during the cold winter months. The activity levels of this species increase throughout spring and reach a peak around May, with activity in the summer months mainly concentrated in the mornings and evenings so as to avoid the intense midday heat. Lilford's wall lizard becomes gradually less active throughout the autumn and winter (3).

Not much is known about the breeding biology of Lilford's wall lizard, although breeding is thought to begin in the spring (3). The female Lilford's wall lizard lays up to three clutches each breeding season (1) (5), with each clutch containing one to three relatively large eggs (1) (3). Lilford's wall lizard frequently interacts aggressively with other lizards during the breeding season, but there is no evidence that it is particularly territorial (8).

Lilford's wall lizard is able to shed its tail to evade predators. It is preyed on by a variety of species, including genets (Genetta genetta), hedgehogs, feral cats and even other lizards. Birds, such as kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and the Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), are also common predators of Lilford's wall lizard (3).

The total population of Lilford's wall lizard is comprised of several small, isolated and fragmented populations, thus making this species extremely vulnerable to localised extinctions (1). Lilford's wall lizard has disappeared from the main islands of Mallorca and Menorca due to the introduction of cats and other non-native predators (1). It is therefore likely that the translocation of other invasive predators between islands by humans, whether intentional or accidental, will have a similar effect on remaining populations of Lilford's wall lizard in the region (1) (3).

This species is frequently targeted for the illegal pet trade and it may also be threatened by indiscriminate poisoning, with many individuals dying from eating poisoned bait intended for seagulls and rats (1) (3).

Declining habitat quality and overgrazing of vegetation by goats is also threatening populations of Lilford's wall lizard on some islands (1) (3). Increased populations of the yellow-legged gull (Larus cachinanns) are also known to have an adverse effect on this species’ populations, probably as a result of predation (3).

Lilford's wall lizard is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that all international trade in this species should be carefully regulated (4). It is also included on Annex II of the Bern Convention and is therefore listed as a strictly protected species in Europe (10). 

Lilford's wall lizard occurs in several national parks across its range including the Parque Nacional de Cabrera in the Cabrera Archipelago, as well as the Parques Naturales de Dragonera and Albufera des Grau in Mallorca and Menorca (1) (3).

Recommended conservation measures for this species include controlling visits to the isolated islands where it occurs (1) (3). An education campaign has been introduced to raise awareness of Lilford's wall lizard and promote its conservation (1).

Find out more about Lilford's wall lizard:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Bauwens, D. and Castilla, A. M. (1998) Ontogenetic, sexual, and microgeographic variation in colour pattern within a population of the lizard Podarcis lilfordi. Journal of Herpetology, 32(4): 581-586.
  3. Salvador, A. (2009) Podarcis lilfordi. In: Salvador, A. and Marco, A. (Eds.) Enciclopedia Virtual de los Vertebrados Españoles. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid. Available at:
    http://www.vertebradosibericos.org/reptiles/pdf/podlil.pdf
  4. CITES (October, 2011)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Bauwens, D. and Castilla, A.M. (2000) Reproductive characteristics of the island lacertid lizard Podarcis lilfordi. Journal of Herpetology, 34(3): 390-396.
  6. Pérez-Mellado, V., Hernández-Estévez, J.A., García-Díez, T., Terrassa, B., Ramón, M.M., Castro, J., Picornell, A., Martín-Vallejo, J. and Brown, R. (2008) Population density in Podarcis lilfordi (Squamata, Lacertidae), a lizard species endemic to small islets in the Balearic Islands (Spain). Amphibia-Reptilia, 29: 49-60.
  7. Pérez-Mellado, V. and Corti, C. (1993) Dietary adaptations and herbivory in lacertid lizards of the genus Podarcis from western Mediterranean islands (Reptilia: Sauria). Bonner Zoologische Beiträge, 44(3-4): 193-220.
  8. Cooper Jr, W.E. and Pérez-Mellado, V. (2003) Kleptoparasitism in the Balearic lizard, Podarcis lilfordi. Amphibia-Reptilia, 24: 219-224.
  9. Castilla, A.M. (1999) Podarcis Ilfordi from the Balearic Islands as a potential disperser of the rare Mediterranean plant Withania frutescens. Acta Oecologica, 20(2): 103-107.
  10. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2011)
    http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/104.htm