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Animal Fact Sheets


legless lizard range map


(Ophisaurus apodus)


Classification and Range

Legless lizards belong to the family Anguidae, a family of around 80 species that is largely confined to the Americas. Two species of this family occur in the Old World: the slow worm (Anguis fragilis) and the European legless lizard (Ophisaurus apodus), which is exhibited at Woodland Park Zoo. Although many members of this family lack limbs, this is not a characteristic of every anguid; many American anguid lizards have four well-developed limbs. European legless lizards, also called glass lizards, range from the Balkans as far as Istria (peninsula in northeastern Italy) and northeast Bulgaria. They are also found in Crimea, Caucasus and parts of southwest and central Asia.


The European legless lizard is normally found in fairly dry habitats, often frequenting rocky hillsides with some cover. These lizards can also be found in dry stone walls, embankments and stone piles. They are diurnal and crepuscular, and are often active after rainfall.

Length and Weight

The European legless lizard is the largest lizard of its family, its average length (including tail) being 2-3 feet (.6-.9 m). The longest recorded European legless lizard was 4 feet (1.2 m). They normally weigh 11-21 ounces (300-600 g).

Life Span

Up to 54 years in captivity.


In the wild: The European legless lizard feeds on a variety of small mammals, bird eggs and invertebrates such as insects and earthworms At the zoo: Crickets, mealworms and young mice


Female legless lizards usually reach sexual maturity at 2 to 3 years of age. About 50% of the species in this family lay eggs; the others bear live young. The breeding season begins during late spring. Females find a damp site where they deposit six to10 white, soft-shelled eggs. Females usually guard their eggs during the incubation period. Young hatch after about six weeks, and measure about 3-6 inches (7.6-12.7 cm) in length. Once born, the female leaves her young, requiring them to hunt on their own.

Life Cycle

Legless lizards may look like snakes, but they are true lizards. Unlike snakes, they have movable eyelids, several rows of belly scales, and the ability to break off their tail when they are in danger. Although many members of this family lack limbs, this is not a characteristic of every species. While the family contains both limbless and limbed lizards, the skull, teeth and tongue of these species are anatomically similar.

Why Glass Lizard?

Another name for the European legless lizard is the glass lizard. Legend says that if you shake a glass lizard, it will break into many pieces, just like glass. While this legend is not completely accurate, when alarmed this lizard will shed its tail which can break into many pieces. That's why we are leaving it in its aquarium and not handling it like the other lizards. If you think about it, the ability to drop your tail is beneficial to a lizard if a predator came along and grabbed its tail. The tail of this lizard makes up about two-thirds of its total body length. If this lizard dropped its tail and it broke into several pieces, the body would look about the same size as the pieces of wiggling tail. Imagine if you were the predator, you would be thoroughly confused as to which wiggling part is really the lizard. As for the drastically shortened legless lizard, in time it will regrow its tail, to be shed again if the need arises.

MIsunderstood Benefactor

The European legless lizard is active by day and hunts exclusively on the ground. Equipped with powerful jaws, broad and blunt teeth, the European legless lizard hunts its favorite food, hard-shelled snails. It rids itself of snail slime by rubbing its nose along the ground after eating. In moist regions, mollusks are this lizard's most important food, while hard-shelled insects are more important in drier regions. In some countries, the European legless lizard plays an important ecological role.

On the Crimean Peninsula, the European legless lizard is recognized as a natural treasure, and local populations do not harm this lizard in the wild. Numerous Soviet zoologists have demonstrated that European legless lizards perform an important service for humans. For example, on farms it preys on insects which are very destructive to corn crops. Unfortunately, in most countries European legless lizards are mistaken for snakes. Since humans often fear and misunderstand snakes, thousands of these lizards are killed each year.

Location at the Zoo

The Day Exhibit of Woodland Park Zoo's Day and Night Exhibits building contains the European legless lizard exhibit

Conservation Connection

European legless lizards, as all reptiles, play an important role in nature's web of life. Wild habitat needed by these reptiles, however, is quickly disappearing. The pet trade is also lowering numbers of certain reptile populations to the point where they may become extinct in the wild. Each of us needs to take action to protect wild habitats so lizards and all animals can continue to perform the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

Humans need lizards and other reptiles.

Here are only a few of the benefits they provide:

•Reptiles help keep animal populations in balance.

•Reptiles consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.

•Snake venom is used in medical research and provides effective medicines to fight certain human diseases.

How You Can Help!

The effort to save lizards, reptiles and other animals requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in a conservation organization of your choice. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at to find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about snakes by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Reptiles as Pets

We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area. In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. If you do choose to get a reptile as a pet, please learn as much as possible about their care and the best species before making your decision and never accept wild-caught animals as pets or release non-native reptiles or amphibians into the wild.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Arnold, E.N. and J.A. Burton. 1978. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. William Collins Sons and Co. England. 272 p.

Burton, Maurice. 1984. Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians & Other Cold-Blooded Animals. BPC Publishing Ltd., San Sebastian, Spain. 252 p. .

For Kids!

Markle, Sandra. 1995. Outside and Inside Snakes. MacMillian Books, New York, NY. 40 p.

Resmick, Jane P. 1996. Eyes on Nature: Snakes. Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.

Zoobooks. 1992. Snakes. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 16 p.

Legless Lizard Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Family: Anguidae
Species:O. apodus

Legless Lizard Fascinating Facts

  • Legless lizards still retain free-floating remnants of a hipbone and tiny tips of hind legs!