Its diet is varied, mainly large insects, beetles and spiders, on occasion bird eggs, baby birds, small mammals, other lizards and small snakes; fruits and berries will be eaten when available. Hibernation takes place from October until March or April under ground.
Found throughout the south of France, and the south west to just north of Bordeaux, it prefers habitats that are open to the sun, rocky scrub, olive plantations, and grasslands, occasionally to be found in denser vegetation. They tend to stay in a fairly small territory, often in pairs, when disturbed they will quickly hide in a hole in the ground, under tree roots or under a large rock, Sometimes when threatened (or handled) they will bite savagely, which although normally harmless will be painful.
Reproduction doesn’t occur until late spring or early summer, often accompanied by violent fights between males, eggs, 5 to 12, being deposited between June and July in the ground. The incubation period is about 3 months and it would be unusual to see the young, which are about 10 centimetres when first hatched, before September.
As the largest lizard in Europe, adults of this species are easily recognised by their size, on average 40 to 60 centimetres, but can sometimes reach 90 centimetres in the southern Pyrenees, two thirds of the length being the tail. The legs, especially the hind legs, are thick and strong, with long curved, pointed claws. The sides, particularly during the breeding season, are decorated with blue spots, the back is patterned with a mixture of greens, browns, yellows and reds. The throat and belly, particularly the males, are yellow. Its colouration increases with exposure to sunlight.
Although reasonable populations are present in Spain, Portugal and the south of France, there has been a substantial decline in many areas due to habitat loss, they have full article 1 protection in France.