They bask in the sunshine with even more enthusiasm than bikini-clad models on a Caribbean photoshoot.

Common lizards adore the sun so much you are unlikely to see one unless it is shining down like a theatre spotlight.

Otherwise they often reveal their presence only when one startles you by scuttling across a path and you glimpse a bit of tail disappearing into long grass.

But this is the time of year when common lizards are easiest to spot as they break cover in perhaps a stone wall, under rocks, a log pile or bracken to catch a few rays. If they have just emerged from hibernation they will gather in numbers to warm up, usually tolerant of humans.

I witnessed this behaviour during a visit to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve on the Essex side of the Thames opposite Belvedere and Abbey Wood. A wooden board had been propped up near the footpath to reflect early morning sun. On this board several common lizards basked, enjoying the sun too much even to move on human approach.

Common lizards are also known as viviparous lizards because females give birth to between four and 10 wriggling young encased in a thin egg membrane which they pierce after a few hours with a special “tooth.”

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Common Lizard, by Donna Zimmer

Common Lizard, by Donna Zimmer

They grow up avoiding many enemies and must be wary hunting for spiders, grasshoppers and flies to feed on. Weasels, hedgehogs and snakes eat lizards along with birds like buzzards, herons, egrets and kestrels. But common lizards have a neat trick which often allows escape from sustained attack. They can shed their tails, a practice which distracts the predator and satisfies its hunger long enough for the lizard to get away. Eventually a new tail is grown like the one in Jim Butler's photograph.

Many local names have been applied to common lizards including four-legged cripple and longscripple in Cornwall, furze evvet in the New Forest and stellion in Cheshire.

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These five-inch grey-brown reptiles are miniature descendants of giant lizards who ruled the Earth more than 100million years ago. The name dinosaur comes from two Greek words meaning terrible lizard.

How ironic that plans are afoot for developers to concrete over common lizard habitat on the Swanscombe peninsular so they can construct a theme park featuring fake dinosaurs!