The seasonal timing of oviposition in sand lizards (Lacerta agilis): why early clutches are better

M. Olsson, R. Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Citations (Scopus)


We studied a population of sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) near the northern edge of the species' range in coastal Sweden. We captured, marked, released and recaptured 98 adult female lizards over 5 years. Hatchlings from 146 laboratory-incubated clutches (1279 eggs) from field-caught gravid females were measured, weighed, marked and released at the study site. Female sand lizards usually laid only a single clutch of 4 to 15 eggs each year, but varied considerably in the time of year at which they laid their eggs. Oviposition dates shifted between years depending on weather (basking opportunities), but the relative timing of oviposition was consistent within a given female from year-to-year. The first females to oviposit each year were large animals in good physical condition, that had grown rapidly in previous years. 'Early' clutches were larger than 'later' clutches, had higher hatching success, and tended to have higher post-hatching survival rates. Offspring from early clutches were larger than 'later' hatchlings, and differed in body proportions (probably because seasonal changes in maternal temperatures directly modified offspring phenotypes). 

Overall, our study documents several strong correlates of the timing of oviposition, and suggests that variation in this trait among females has strong fitness consequences, perhaps related to maternal 'quality'. The correlations we observed between oviposition date and other traits that have been invoked as determinants of hatchling survival in reptiles (e.g., hatchling size, body shape, opportunities for multiple mating by the mother) suggest that hypotheses advocating simple causal connections between these traits and hatchling success should be viewed with caution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-381
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Climatic influences
  • Lacertidae
  • Life-history
  • Lizard
  • Reproductive timing
  • Seasonality


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