The Maltese wall lizard, or ‘Gremxula ta’ Malta’, is a small lizard with a slender body, a scaled head and a large abdomen, and is endemic to the Maltese islands and to the Pelagian Islands; a group of small islands found between Malta and Tunisia. It is found nowhere else in the world.
The Maltese countryside abounds with wall lizards, especially in spring and summer. These emerge in the early morning and spend a great deal of their time sunning themselves on stones and walls, thence their common name of ‘wall lizard’. The wall lizard feeds mostly on insects and small animals such as beetles, ants, woodlice and snails, however it can also survive on fruits and vegetables. This lizard is not harmful in any way, and can moreover be beneficial to man, since it actually feeds on a number of animals which are considered to be pests.
Not every individual wall lizard has the same colour scheme. Some are predominantly green with a yellow or orange coloration on the underside of the neck, while others are more drab, being mainly brownish and without the bright coloured neck. The males are generally larger than the females, and more brightly coloured, as well as being more territorial. The territorial male positions himself in the centre of his chosen territory and bobs his head up and down to display the brightly coloured neck region. He does this to simultaneously warn off any other males, as well as attract females.
If a female lizard is attracted by this display, the couple will engage in a courtship ‘dance’ which involves the two running after each other until they eventually mate. A few days following the mating, the female will lay her eggs either in soil or under a stone. This generally occurs in spring, and the eggs hatch in the following period from June to August, that is, in the summer months. During this season, the Maltese countryside becomes filled with a multitude of hatchlings all running about in search of food, before the onset of the cold winter months.
When the weather turns cold, lizards seek sheltered places were to spend the summer months. The local wall lizard does not hibernate as do lizards which live in colder climates than those of the Maltese islands.
There are a number of folktales associated with these lizards, especially those found on the islet of Filfla. Perhaps the most widespread of these claims that the wall lizards of Filfla actually have two tails. Many lizards have the ability to shed their tail if they are hotly pursued, especially if they are grabbed by it. This is a defence mechanism, after which the lizard is then able to re-grow a new tail. Occasionally the old tail does not separate completely from the body and is left attached to it by a piece of skin. When the new one grows, the two tails fuse, and the lizard may seem to have two tails. This phenomenon happens to lizards the world over, and is not peculiar just to the subspecies which lives on Filfla.
Different islands of the Maltese group have different subspecies of wall lizard living on them. These different races vary both in size and coloration. The lizards of the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino are the most populous of these subspecies, and are normally greenish and speckled. The largest subspecies of the four, lives on the island of Filfla, and is generally blackish with blue spots. The islet of Fungus Rock has its own subspecies of wall lizard, which has a reddish belly. Following a rat invasion a decade ago, the particular subspecies found on the Islets of Saint Paul, known as the Selmunett Wall Lizard, is unfortunately, believed to have become almost extinct.
National legislation is in place to protect the Maltese wall lizard and capturing or killing this animal is illegal. Public appreciation and participation is of the utmost importance and it is imperative for us to safeguard these reptiles which are unique and part of the natural heritage of our country.