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Supercooling, ice inoculation and freeze tolerance in the European common lizard, Lacerta vivipara


The European common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) is widely distributed throughout Eurasia and is one of the few Palaearctic reptiles occurring above the Arctic Circle. We investigated the cold-hardiness of L. vivipara from France which routinely encounter subzero temperatures within their shallow hibernation burrows. In the laboratory, cold-acclimated lizards exposed to subfreezing temperatures as low as -3.5°C could remain unfrozen (supercooled) for at least 3 weeks so long as their microenvironment was dry. In contrast, specimens cooled in contact with ambient ice crystals began to freeze within several hours. However, such susceptibility to inoculative freezing was not necessarily deleterious since L. vivipara readily tolerated the freezing of its tissues, with body surface temperatures as low as -3.0°C during trials lasting up to 3 days. Freezing survival was promoted by relatively low post-nucleation cooling rates (≤0.1°C·h-1) and apparently was associated with an accumulation of the putative cryoprotectant, glucose. The cold-hardiness strategy of L. vivipara may depend on both supercooling and freeze tolerance capacities, since this combination would afford the greatest likelihood of surviving winter in its dynamic thermal and hydric microenvironment.

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bm :

body mass


snout-vent length

Tb :

body surface temperature

T c :

crystallization temperature


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Correspondence to J. P. Costanzo.

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Communicated by L.C.-H. Wang

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Costanzo, J.P., Grenot, C. & Lee, R.E. Supercooling, ice inoculation and freeze tolerance in the European common lizard, Lacerta vivipara . J Comp Physiol B 165, 238–244 (1995).

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Key words

  • Freeze tolerance
  • Supercooling
  • Cold-hardiness
  • Cryoprotection
  • Lizard
  • Lacerta