In Search of the Ibizan Wall Lizard

The Ibizan Wall Lizard. Cool as heck.

Lizards licking an ice cube

Ah, nature! Living on Ibiza has many benefits, but being surrounded by such a beautiful environment is surely in the top one or two. Those of you who have visited Ibiza before or live here year round will know the Wall Lizard well. These little neighbours are surprisingly confident unless startled, and are full of character.

If you don’t like these guys then I don’t know if we can be friends. I mean how cute can you get?!

We might think that humans own Ibiza, with our concrete and noise and clubs, but this is a lizard island.  It’s their backyard. We are relatively new arrivals. 

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I make absolutely no apologies for being a total nerd for the Ibizan Wall Lizard. What stars these guys are. The fascinating aspect for me is how the Wall Lizard has adapted to life on Las Pituisas. By most measurements small islands are not good environments for non-aquatic lizards, the food supply can be scarce, and competition high.

Strange adaptations

The fact that these lizards are so numerous is an indication to us that something very peculiar has happened to a species that at one point would have been completely carnivorous.

They learned to eat fruit.

I have discovered through über-scientific trial and error tests in the field (I lie on the beach and throw bits of fruit at lizards) that this species is particularly fond of grapes, but will go for strawberries as well. Apparently these guys will also eat smaller lizards and lizard eggs if given the opportunity, along with their usual diet of ants and insects. While cannibalism is pretty grim, again this is an adaptive response to living on islands. When there’s less prey available, a smaller lizard starts looking pretty good.

Wall Lizards also dine on flowers, nectar and seeds when they can find them, which means that on Ibiza we have lizards that pollinate. Imagine that!

The lizards also help the plants spread out by eating fruits and then depositing the seeds far from the original plant. Isn’t that cool?

Don’t feed the lizards Cheetos though. They’re not good for anyone.

Evolution in Action

It is an evolved strategy of survival that is produced by the millennia long isolation on Ibiza and Formentera that these lizards have experienced. We see the effect of evolution in other ways too. The colours of the Ibiza Wall Lizard are more varied than the trinkets that bear the shape of the reptile at Las Dalias Market.

The Wall Lizard, sort of.
Pay attention class, this is NOT a Wall Lizard.

What will surprise you to learn is that the coloured lizards are geographically segregated. The lizards in the North and South are different colours, as are the East and West. The wall lizards that live on Es Vedra are a deep purple, for example.

On Formentera, the effect is astounding. The Formentera Wall Lizard is brighter and larger than its Ibicencan cousin, and the colours are astonishingly vivid. Separated only by short distances, what we see is dozens of sub-species of lizard scattered across the islands.

On Formentera the lizards show off bright colours.
On Formentera the lizards show off bright colours.

Amazingly, we don’t know exactly why these lizards have adopted such a wide variety of markings. Some theorise that large, bright lizards are broadcasting their prowess to other lizards, to stake claim on territory.  In an evolutionary sense, this works for smaller lizards too.  It would be a bad day indeed to fight a lizard that is much bigger than he looks. Much better for everyone to see from a safe distance who is a competitor, and who is simply going to eat you.

So what is the other lizard on Ibiza?

Through a combination of what I describe as interpretive artistic representation and simple ignorance, the lizard that appears on merchandise and throws and fabric bags and bumper stickers is the wrong lizard.

Not an Ibizan Wall Lizard
Just wrongness in every sense

 

What we have ended up with is a mish-mash of the Ibizan Wall Lizard and this guy. This is a Moorish Gecko, who’s name should tell you his origin. This guy is the one you might see skittering up your wall at night on his suckered toes, and while he is very cool he lacks personality, which the Wall Lizard has in spades.

Ibizan 'wall lizard' art
This is not a Wall Lizard. It’s a lizard that crawls on walls.

So, this is what is commonly thought of as the symbol of Ibiza. Compared to the other photos I’ve posted here, you can see that there’s been a misinterpretation of the brief. You can see that this silhouette is clearly that of the foreign invader, the Moorish Gecko. Note the splayed feet with rounded toes, compared to the slender claws of the Ibizan Wall Lizard.

Why this has happened is easy to understand. The Ibizan Wall Lizard acquired it’s name because it likes to hide in the nooks and crannies of walls. The Moorish Gecko is more likely to be seen on the walls of your apartment as it hunts for mosquitoes.

A Wall Lizard, despite its name, is actually incapable of climbing vertical, smooth walls like the gecko, and so the confusion has arisen. Probably. I’m not a lizard expert.

Sympathy for the Reptile

I don’t think the Wall Lizards mind too much that we draw them wrong, though. They seem above such petty concerns as that.

There’s something I’d like to finish with that occurs to me when I meet the lizards on my travels. The Wall Lizard is cold blooded, which we think as being inferior to our internally regulated, mammalian temperature.

In some ways for sure.  There’s a lot to be said for being a mammal, we have opposable thumbs and Netflix for a start. There is another perspective to take though. The lizards are far more in tune with their environment than we are. They allow themselves to respond to the world rather than struggling in vain to bend it to their will.

In this way, the Ibiza Wall Lizards are able to tolerate much higher levels of internal heat than we are, absorbing the energy for use in movement. Is it because of this that you never see a stressed Wall Lizard? Lizards might move quickly sometimes, but always with that knowing smile on their faces.

They get the Café del Mar mentality, instinctively.

Maybe we could learn a thing or two ourselves, about ourselves.

Perhaps we could stand to be like the Wall Lizard in our day to day lives. Adaptable to our changing environments, never letting the heat get to us. Understanding that when others misrepresent us or paint us inaccurately, it’s usually not about us at all, it is more likely to be a lack of understanding or a misconception.

Taking a tip from the Wall Lizard, it might be good to remember it’s no big deal, and there’s still plenty of sweet fruits in the world.

 

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