Quantcast
Mar 142012
 

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 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 () in actually benefit from the presence of railroad tracks.

The 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 , 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.

Breeding season male Lacerta agilis 2011 by George Chernilevsky, public domainAs 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 .

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 , 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.

Sand lizard by Laurent Lebois, Creative Commons licenseClimate 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); and Laurent Lebois (3rd image).

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey loves looking for wild things in all the wrong places... so she became an urban biologist. Her quest to entice others to share this passion led to flirtations with (gasp!) the media—as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle; as host of KUNM-FM’s Wild Things; as producer of an Emmy® winning wildlife documentary; and at her Next-Door Nature blog. Kieran has way too much fun as official Animal-Vehicle Biologist for NPR's Car Talk, and she isn’t ashamed to admit it.

Leave a Comment

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Scott/725718782 Steven Scott

    Wonderful post. 

Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days

  1. Join the 1st World Giraffe Day and help save these gentle giants » [782 Views]
  2. Shot Egyptian vulture leads conservationists to bizarre black-market for bird parts » [603 Views]
  3. Cuckoos’ shameless egg-laying tactics revealed » [459 Views]
  4. Japan kills 30 minke whales in first hunt since UN court order » [441 Views]
  5. POLL: Should the Slaughter of Grouse be allowed to continue? » [430 Views]
  6. Albatross Internet Darling Takes First Flight » [366 Views]
  7. Elachuridae: Ornithologists Describe New Family of Passerine Birds » [349 Views]
  8. Software can decode bird songs » [315 Views]
  9. Threatened Species ‘Red List’ Warns 90 Percent of Lemur Species Face Extinction » [315 Views]
  10. Video: Polar Bear Cam Provides Unique View into Arctic Life » [314 Views]

Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months

  1. POLL: Should the Slaughter of Grouse be allowed to continue? » [33741 Views]
  2. POLL: Should bear hunting be banned in the US? » [27995 Views]
  3. Massive Bird Slaughter Around the Mediterranean – Shocking Photos » [12169 Views]
  4. POLL: Should China’s shameful tiger farms be closed down? » [12097 Views]
  5. Petition: Stop Lion Canned Hunting in South Africa – Shocking Video » [9859 Views]
  6. POLL: Should the Faroe Islands’ whale slaughter be allowed to continue? » [7862 Views]
  7. POLL: Should the fox-hunting laws in the UK be relaxed? » [6998 Views]
  8. Trophy Hunting in Africa – Wildlife Slaughter in Graphic Images » [5526 Views]
  9. POLL: Should the Dolphin Slaughter in Taiji Cove be stopped? » [5269 Views]
  10. Wildlife Photography – Ethics and Conservation Issues? » [5096 Views]