Uh oh, a snake?

This one actually isn’t a snake. It may look a lot like one, but it’s a lizard.

ll1Image By: Will Thomas

A snake might seem like it’s just a legless lizard. I mean, they are reptiles. Really though, there are quite a few differences between a snake and a lizard. It’s more than just the leg thing. For legless lizards it mostly is just the leg thing that separates them from legged lizards.

There are a lot of different species of legless lizards across a number of families. That probably means a lot of them lost their legs independently of each other. Who would have thought that giving up on legs could be that popular?

ll3Image By: pondhawk

When you first find out about legless lizards, you might ask why they’re not snakes. One thing that differentiates them from snakes is that they can still do that lizard thing where their tail pops right off and grows back later. I’ve never seen a snake drop its tail and run, I think they’d bite back instead. Legless lizards are also rocking eyelids. They can blink, close their eyes or give a little wink. Snakes don’t have eyelids, which I think must suck for them. Legless lizards also have ears. You know, holes in their head that sound goes into, like we’ve got. Snakes don’t really have that, they just have an inner ear that works without holes. People used to think that snakes were deaf because they couldn’t see the holes. I bet legless lizards never had that assumption made about them. Something everyone knows about snakes is that forked tongue thing they’ve got going on. Even though there are some lizards that also have forked tongues, most legless lizards are keeping things simple with a normal tongue.

That’s just a few of the most obvious differences. And because there are so many different types of legless lizards, they might not all have those different features. I’ve seen some with forked tongues.
But basically, there are reasons why biologists separated them from snakes, you just need to look closely.

ll4Image By: Matt Clancy Wildlife Photography

Since this isn’t a single species, or even a single family of species, you can find some form of legless lizard in a whole bunch of countries. There are glass lizards that can be found throughout the Old World and North America, there are flap-footed lizards in Australia. All of the big landmasses probably have legless lizards hanging out somewhere. Some legless lizards are underground animals. They dig holes for a living. I wonder if those ones get mistaken for worms instead of snakes.

Some legless lizards are absolutely killing it when it comes to not being endangered.

ll7Image By: Matt Clancy Wildlife Photography

Burton’s legless lizard is an Australian lizard that’s really widespread across Australia. I read somewhere that it’s Australia’s most widespread reptile. That must be a pretty hard title to earn considering Australia’s seems to be full of reptiles.

Because it’s so widespread, no one’s even investigating whether it’s threatened or not, they’re just assuming that it’s a least concern species. I wonder if this is a dangerous way to think, or if it leaves more resources for species that are more obviously threatened.

There are some species that aren’t so lucky though.

ll6Image By: CSIRO

The striped legless lizard is also an Australian legless lizard, but it only lives in a few areas and it can’t be found in a few of them anymore. It’s endangered and its population is decreasing.

One of the reasons for the decline of this species is urban development. The grasslands in Australia where they live must be where all the big Australian cities are.

 

So, why are these one of my top animals? Normally I have a good reason, for these guys, I can’t quite place it. They’re just lizards, but with no legs. I guess what I like is the idea that they look like snakes, but aren’t. They’re cool because they challenge my ideas of what makes a snake a snake.

ll5Image By: Marshal Hedin

Anyway, that’s just a little bit about striped lizards to get you going.
I’m interested, are these things as off-putting to you as snakes are? Let me know in the comments.
I’m wondering if humans are so scared of snakes because they’re so legless, or if it’s something else. Looking at photos, I think these guys are cuter than snakes.

 

There are so many different types, you could read about them for days. It’s hard to find information about some of the species though. Here’s a couple of other websites that might get you started.

Learn About Nature

Queensland Museum

Howcast

 

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