For the majority of wild species trying to make it in the city (or even in the suburbs), human travel corridors pose an enormous existential threat. This is particularly true for reptiles and amphibians. I suspect nearly everyone, at some point in their driving career, has come face-to-face with this fact while watching and often wincing as a turtle plods resolutely across a two-lane (or four- or six-lane) highway. Even a curb can be an insurmountable obstacle when you’re small or physically inflexible.
So it came as an unexpected and happy surprise to learn that, according to research by Klaus-Detlef Kühnel of the German Society for Herpetology and Terrarium Customers (DGHT), sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) in Berlin actually benefit from the presence of railroad tracks.
The sand lizard is found across most of Europe and as far east as Mongolia. It grows to about 10 in (25 cm) from nose to tail… depending on whether it’s ever had to sacrifice a tail tip to escape a predator. Males change from the normal brown tones—light belly, darker back with a dorsal stripe—to bright green during the mating season. There are several subspecies of sand lizard, and in some the males wear green racing stripes rather than make a head-to-toe wardrobe change. The eastern variations (especially Lacerta agilis exigua) may remain green year-round. Like many other reptilian mothers, female sand lizards bury their eggs and let the Sun take over nanny duties.
As Kühnel explains in Urban Herpetology, L. agilis is one of only a few reptile species able to survive in the urbanized centers of central Europe. His work clearly demonstrates sand lizard populations are concentrated alongside train tracks.
There are over 300 km of railways crisscrossing Berlin’s metropolitan grid. Normally, the conditions preferred by sand lizards exist along forest edges but the south-facing track bed embankments, a substrate of coarse stone fragments covered with a layer of sand, and sparse vegetation offer the perfect xeric habitat, not just for adults but for their eggs and newly hatched young as well.
Sand lizards have been observed on railway embankments in other central European urban centers, but their numbers can’t comparable to the Berlin population. Kühnel attributes this to the climate and topography unique to the northeastern lowlands of Germany, citing earlier research that suggests these factors are key to the distribution of sand lizards in the northwestern parts of its range.
I was already planning to lift a celebratory glass of chilled Riesling or Gewürztraminer in honor of a small scaly hobo riding the rails to a better future… when Kühnel delivered the bad news. In an attempt to increase travel efficiency and lower its carbon footprint, Germany is converting much of its existing rail system to accommodate high-speed trains. Stone and sand track beds are being replaced with solid concrete, and adjacent easements and abandoned freight yards are being snapped up for residential and industrial development.
Climate change is serious business and I applaud Germany for trying to do the right thing for our lonely blue planet. I just wish people were the only ones who paid the price. To quote a favorite Coen Brothers movie, sometimes it’s a hard world for the small things.
More than sometimes.
For more on urban lizards and other urban reptile issues, visit Kieran’s blog, Next-Door Nature. Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available for use: Sander van der Molen (1st image);George Chernilevsky (2nd image); andLaurent Lebois (3rd image).
You may also like:
Leave a Comment
Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days
- POLL: Should the Faroe Islands’ whale slaughter be allowed to continue? » [6969 Views]
- Poll: Should Rhinos be Hunted to Support Conservation » [2244 Views]
- Poll: Should lion canned hunting be banned in South Africa? » [2020 Views]
- » 12 Extraordinary Pictures Show Animals Headed for Extinction [1741 Views]
- Angry hippo flings newborn calf into the air » [1195 Views]
- Video: Mother Owl Takes On Snake – and Wins » [1136 Views]
- Recently rediscovered hummingbird faces extinction » [1115 Views]
- POLL: Should bear hunting be banned in the US? » [888 Views]
- Thought-to-be-extinct ‘halloween’ frog rediscovered in Costa Rica » [878 Views]
- A third of Europe’s birds under threat, says most comprehensive study yet » [744 Views]
Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months
- POLL: Should the trophy hunting of giraffes be banned? » [11848 Views]
- » POLL: Should the ban on fox hunting be relaxed in the UK? [10681 Views]
- POLL: Should the Faroe Islands’ whale slaughter be allowed to continue? » [7193 Views]
- POLL: Should bear hunting be banned in the US? » [4015 Views]
- POLL: Should lion canned hunting be banned in South Africa? » [3820 Views]
- Komodo and its Dragons » [3710 Views]
- Petition: Stop Lion Canned Hunting in South Africa – Shocking Video » [3503 Views]
- Poll: Should hunting of black bears in Florida be allowed? » [3006 Views]
- POLL: Should the slaughter of wolves in British Columbia be banned? » [2966 Views]
- POLL: Should the wolf hunting contest in Idaho be stopped? » [2702 Views]