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If you go on an excursion to Mount Etna, especially if you stop to rest among the cold lava stones or on a dry stone wall, you might find it … keeping you company! The Etna green lizard is in fact a very common little animal on the volcano. Although, to be honest, it’s not a real lizard. In fact, it is the oriental lacerta virdis laurenti, a much larger type. What makes it different from any other lizard in the world? The big dimensions, the bright green (and blue) color and… the fact of living on an active volcano!

The lizard that is not a lizard

The oriental green lizard is a member of the lizard family, but unlike its “cousins” it is larger and the male and female individuals can be clearly distinguished. The males are large and long, with a big head and a very bright color without streaks; the females are smaller, less green and with streaks.

They behave like lizards, although by nature they are lazier and in fact they rarely climb. However, they love to laze in the sun at the foot of the warm stones, or just outside the bushes or on the roots of the trees. During the cold seasons they tend to rest or sleep a lot while they are very active in the summer.

etna green lizard 2Where can you meet the green lizards

The green lizard, or oriental lizard, arrives in Italy from the east, as the name itself suggests. In fact, it is a very widespread animal in Eastern Europe and Turkey. In our country it has found a perfect habitat in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia-Romagna. It is not known how it managed to cross the sea and reach Sicily, but this type of lizard is certainly now “at home” on Etna. It is not difficult to spot it, especially in late spring or summer, even on the roadside.

Where can you meet it on Etna

Walking along the roads and nature paths of Etna, green lizards can be found almost everywhere. They love to stay in anthropized land, therefore close to fields and orchards, so it is easier to see them at low altitudes.

Green lizards have been spotted and photographed in the countryside of Trecastagni (Etna South), on the Pietracannone and Trofa del Campiere (or Parrini) paths at Etna North, but also along the country roads of the eastern flank. Green lizards love being in the sun and when they enjoy the moment they even let humans get close to them… although they are ready to hide at any moment. Just remain cautiously still to be able to admire them without any problem.

Not to be confused with the “Tiraciàtu”

Another very common lizard on our volcano is the gongilo, called in Sicilian “u Tiraciàtu” (breath hunter). In the past, in fact, it was believed that it was attracted by the smell of infants’ breath and could therefore slip into babies’ mouths and choke them. None of this is true! This very shy lizard stays very far from humans; it is simply a “slightly fat” cousin of the green lizard. Of a robust build, it has such small legs that are almost invisible and therefore from afar make it look like a small snake! However, the Tiraciàtu is much darker than the Etna green lizard.  (ALL PHOTOS BY G MUSUMECI)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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