4 LEGLESS Lizards Found in South Carolina! (ID Guide)
“How many LEGLESS lizards are there in South Carolina?”
You might be asking yourself, isn’t a legless lizard just a snake? And you aren’t far off!
Scientifically speaking, legless lizards come from a different branch of the reptile tree than snakes.
But for the rest of us, we need to look at their eyes! Legless lizards have MOVABLE eyelids, which are a dead giveaway that you have found one. Snakes, on the other hand, have see-through membranes that protect their eyes.
Today, you’ll learn the 4 kinds of LEGLESS lizards in South Carolina.
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#1. Slender Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus attenuatus
- 22 to 47 inches long.
- Coloring is generally brown to black, with whitish markings in the middle of the scales.
- Younger individuals have dark stripes along the back and sides, and older individuals develop faint crossbands.
Slender Glass Lizards live in dry grasslands and open forests in South Carolina.
They eat insects, spiders, small rodents, and small lizards. However, unlike snakes, they do not have flexible jaws, which means they can only eat prey smaller than their head!
United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Glass lizards are named for their extremely fragile tails, which can break off even without being touched. Slender Glass Lizards are rarely found with their original tail intact because they break so often! If you notice that the end of its tail is tan with no stripes, you can be sure the lizard lost its original tail.
You’re likely to find a Slender Glass Lizard in animal burrows or piles of debris.
There are two subspecies:
- Western Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus attenuatus), the tail is shorter.
- Eastern Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus longicaudus) have longer tails.
#2. Island Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus compressus
- 15 to 24 inches long.
- Coloring is brown to tan with dark lines – one on each side and one down the middle of the back.
- The tail is less fragile, and therefore more often intact than with other glass lizards.
Island Glass Lizards, found in southeastern South Carolina, prefer sandy, loose soil in pine scrub forests, coastal islands, and inland pine woods.
rbrausse, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Most of the information we know about the Island Glass Lizard is assumed based on information about other types of glass lizards. This is because they are what’s called a “cryptic species”, meaning it’s scarce and studied so infrequently that virtually nothing specific is known about them.
We know that Island Glass Lizards are slightly less prone to tail breakage than others because most that have been found still have their original tail.
#3. Eastern Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus ventralis
- 18 to 43 inches long.
- Coloring is greenish to black, with a light yellow or tan belly.
- Light-colored dots or dashes form irregular rows on the back; no stripes are present.
The Eastern Glass Lizard is at home in many habitats in eastern South Carolina, including grasslands and pine forests, tropical hardwood groves, and wet meadows.
They eat insects and other invertebrates and will forage for food both above ground and below.
Virginia Herpetological Society
Although they can create their own burrows, they use the burrows of other animals more often. For example, it’s common to find Eastern Glass Lizards in the burrows of small rodents like mice and voles or snakes and other lizards.
#4. Mimic Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus mimicus
- 15 to 26 inches long.
- Coloring is brown to tan with a dark middle stripe that fades toward the tail.
- Smaller than other glass lizards.
Although their name implies that they are impostors, Mimic Glass Lizards are part of the same family as other glass lizards.
United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Mimic Glass Lizards are rare to find in South Carolina!
These almost impossible-to-find reptiles are usually smaller and darker in color than other glass lizards.
Not much is known about this species, other than their general habitat preference of pine forests and grassland. However, one confirmed predator, the Black Racer snake, can be found in the same habitat and hunts Mimic Glass Lizards.
Do you need additional help identifying legless lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these legless lizards have you seen in South Carolina?
Leave a comment below!