Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Glass Lizard - Glass Snake - Legless Lizard

With an overview of care for Ophiosaurus

©1997 Melissa Kaplan


To those not familiar with them, glass lizards in the genus Ophiosaurus (literally, snake [ophio-] -lizard [saurus]) look rather like a snake with ears and blinking eyes. Careful inspection of the vent area in some species will show tiny spurs, similar to a boa or python. Related to the alligator lizards (Gerrhonotus), their head and body shape are reminiscent of those species, including the conical teeth and lateral fold. They are very un-snakelike when held, being firm in the body like an alligator lizard or large skink, rather than the softly supple body associated with snakes.

Legless lizards are found in the Old and New Worlds, ranging in areas of Indonesia, southern Asia, the Near East, southeastern Europe, North Africa, and North America. The European and American legless lizards are in the family Anguidae, Anniellidae, and Xenosauridae; the Australasian ones in the family Pygopodidae. Some of the Anguidae legless lizards are called lateral fold lizards due to the pronounced lateral fold that runs down each side. Other genuses, such as the Gerrhonotus and Elgaria, are legged lizards.

The fifteen Ophiosaurus species live in stony steppes and damp forests. Their common name, glass lizard or glass snake, is due to their ability, like many lizards, of dropping their tail. To 50 inches (120 cm). The adults are rather plainly colored, primarily shades of brown or green. Juveniles have more contrasting markings.


Captive Habitat
Crepuscular, these ground dwellers may occasionally burrow under ground or litter. The enclosure should provide a burrowable substrate (sterile potting soil lightened with a little sand, bits of orchid bark, or cactus mix) topped with bark slabs for hiding places, branches and rocks for climbing on and hiding under. A water bowl they can easily get in and out of is required.

Temperatures range from 70-85 F (21-29 C), with a nightly reduction of 5-10 degrees. UVB is not required but some exposure to unfiltered sunlight is beneficial.


Diet consists primarily of arthropods, with larger animals eating snails and small mammals.


Oviparous, the female so some species incubate their eggs, their body temperatures raised during this time by 0.3-0.4 C, similar to pythons.


Ophiosaurus Species (Glass Lizards and Alligator Lizards; Lateral Fold Lizards)

O. apodus Sheltopusik.
Balkan Peninsula through Turkey, Syria, and Caucasus to central Asia. To 4.5 feet (1.4 m), with tail equal to snout-vent length. Oviparous, laying 6-12 eggs. May live over 20 years in captivity. Habitat ranges from brush steppes through open forest. Hindlimbs about 2 mm long.

O. attenatus Slender Glass Lizard
Southern and central U.S. Brown with darker stripes. 3.3 feet (1 m), with body about 11 inches.

O. koellikeri Koelliker's Glass Lizard
Northwestern Africa. Easily to 16 inches (40 cm). Olive brown with green dots. Lives in damp habitats with dense vegetation.

O. ventralis Eastern Glass Lizard
Southeastern US. To 3.3 feet (1 m). Appears greenish, with white bars on neck. Prefers semi-shade. Found in damp forestand meadows.

Other Ophiosaurus species:
Ophisaurus buettikoferi
Ophisaurus ceroni
Ophisaurus compressus
Ophisaurus formosensis
Ophisaurus gracilis
Ophisaurus hainanensis
Ophisaurus harti
Ophisaurus incomptus
Ophisaurus mimicus
Ophisaurus sokolovi
Ophisaurus wegneri



TIGR Reptile Database: Pygopodidae (Australasian); Anniellidae (American); Anguidae (Other Legless, Lateral Fold and Alligator Lizards)

Mattison, Chris 1992. The Care of Reptiles and Amphibians In Captivity. Blandford Press, London. 306 p.

Obst, F.J., Richter, Dr. K., Jacob, Dr. U. 1988. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ. 815 p.

Stebbins, Robert C. 1985. Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA. 322 p.

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Journal Abstracts on Legless Lizards

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