6 LEGLESS Lizards in the United States! (ID Guide)
“How many LEGLESS lizards are there in the United States?”
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 6 kinds of LEGLESS lizards in the United States.
RELATED: 50 Common SNAKES That Live in the USA! (ID Guide)
RELATED: 50 Common LIZARDS Found in the United States! (With Photos)
#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 the United States.
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 in the United States 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 the United States, 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 the United States!
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.
#5. Florida Wormlizard
- Rhineura floridana
- 7 to 11 inches long.
- The coloring is pinkish-tan without markings.
- The head is lizardlike but with a sunken lower jaw.
This species is arguably the WEIRDEST legless lizard in the United States!
Its scales encircle its body like thin bands, giving it the appearance of a giant earthworm. It’s a fossorial species, meaning it spends almost all of its time underground.
One adaptation to its underground life is that it has only vestigial eyes, which means they are unusable, covered by scales!
Florida Wormlizards are almost impossible to find in their habitat because of all the time they spend underground, but you might be able to catch a glimpse of one on the side of the road after heavy rain.
#6. California Legless Lizard
- Anniella pulchra
- 4.5 to 7 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Two color morphs exist:
- Silver, gray, or beige with a dark line on the back and a yellow belly.
- Black above, without lines, and with dark blotches on the belly.
- Eyes are very small.
North American Legless Lizards are small, burrowing lizards that can definitely be confused with snakes at first glance. Some differences between these lizards and true snakes are their movable eyelids, fixed jaws, and lack of a forked tongue.
Legless lizards in the United States prefer habitats with sandy, loose soil.
You are likely to find them on beaches or river banks. Legless lizards are adapted for burrowing and spend most of their time underground, but they come to the surface at dusk or nighttime to feed. They eat insects, spiders, and small moths.
Legless lizards in the United States are considered a species of greatest concern.
Their populations are severely reduced because of agricultural and housing development, as well as invasive plant species. Other threats to their survival include golf course development, off-road vehicle use, trampling by humans, and sand mining.
Four closely related species of Anniella pulchra have been given full species status recently. Research into differences in their DNA profile and visual appearance has made this possible. The 4 new species, which only live in California are:
- Southern California Legless Lizard (Anniella stebbinsi): Coloring is light olive-brown with a dark stripe down the back.
- Bakersfield Legless Lizard (Anniella grinnelli): Coloring is olive with a single light stripe down the back.
- Southern Sierra Legless Lizard (Anniella campi): Coloring is yellow-gray with darker stripes on the back and sides.
- Temblor Legless Lizard (Anniella alexanderae): Coloring is pale olive on the back with gray sides.
Do you need additional help identifying legless lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these legless lizards have you seen in the United States?
Leave a comment below!