Naturalist Fact: Glass Lizards

At first sight, most people would assume that any of the several species of glass lizards are actually snakes. In fact, another common name for these strange reptiles is glass snakes. They are also known, more accurately, as legless lizards.

The most immediately obvious feature of these critters is their lack of legs, which leaves them well suited to a lifestyle of burrowing and crawling through soil and leaf litter in search of invertebrates and other ground-dwelling animals. Indeed, they seem quite snake-like as they crawl around the forest floor. Closer examination, however, reveals a few key differences: for starters, glass lizards move with a stiffer motion, never quite able to master the smooth slithering of snakes. They also posses external ear openings, moveable eyelids, and a long groove along the length of the body, none of which are found in snakes. Perhaps their greatest difference, however, is their ability to break off and regrow their tails at will, allowing them to escape from predators with ease – provided they don’t get grabbed by the head.

 Of Georgia’s four glass lizard species, two – the Eastern and Island – are found on Little St. Simons Island. The Eastern Glass Lizard is the largest (up to 42 inches in length) and most commonly encountered. It ranges across the coastal plain and lower Piedmont of the southeastern US, but seems most abundant immediately adjacent to the coast. They can occasionally be found in good numbers along marsh edge and dune habitat.

Island Glass Lizard, Ophisaurus compressus, photographed on LSSI in April 2011.

While the Eastern Glass Lizard is secretive, the Island Glass Lizard can be considered truly rare. Only one or two are sighted on the island per year. It is a much smaller species, maxing out just short of two feet in length. Oddly, it has lost the ability to break off and regenerate its tail. It can be distinguished by the solid black stripe running the length of its otherwise unpatterned yellow body. Little St. Simons is one of just a few places where numerous Island Glass Lizards have been found, but it remains the most poorly understood vertebrate species on the island.

Please like & share: