Eastern Glass Lizard

Ophisaurus ventralis

Last updated: February 2, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit iStock.com/cturtletrax

When the glass lizard loses its tail it can grow another one. But the new tail lacks the markings of the old one and is usually shorter.

Eastern Glass Lizard Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Anguidae
Genus
Ophisaurus
Scientific Name
Ophisaurus ventralis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Eastern Glass Lizard Conservation Status

Eastern Glass Lizard Locations

Eastern Glass Lizard Locations

Eastern Glass Lizard Facts

Prey
Lizards, snakes, mice, invertebrates such as insects, spiders, earthworms and snails as well as each other.
Name Of Young
Hatchling
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
When the glass lizard loses its tail it can grow another one. But the new tail lacks the markings of the old one and is usually shorter.
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction, vehicular accidents
Most Distinctive Feature
Lack of legs even though it’s a lizard and not a snake
Other Name(s)
Joint snake, stinging snake, horn snake
Gestation Period
50 to 60 days
Litter Size
Five to 15 eggs
Habitat
Wet areas, including places near marshes, forests near the ocean, wet meadows, mesic semi-tropical or tropical hammocks, coastal dunes
Predators
Foxes, skunks, birds of prey, snakes and raccoons
Diet
Carnivore
Type
reptile
Common Name
Eastern glass lizard
Number Of Species
1
Location
Southeastern United States
Group
solitary

Eastern Glass Lizard Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Top Speed
4 mph
Lifespan
Lifespan of 10 to 30 years
Weight
11 to 21 ounces
Length
18 to 43 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
Two to three years

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“It’s a lizard, not a snake!”

Wondering why this legless lizard didn’t just go ahead and turn into a snake is beyond the scope of this article, but Ophisaurus ventralis is very much a lizard. It blinks, it has ears, and it can only open its mouth so wide to swallow a meal. Most of its body is made up of a tail, which is fortunate because the lizard has evolved to shed its tail to evade capture. Found only in the American south, sleek and pretty in colors of green, brown, tan, and white, it even makes a good pet for some people. Read on to learn more about the eastern glass lizard.

Five Incredible Eastern Glass Lizard Facts!

Here are five amazing facts about the fascinating eastern glass lizard.

  • Before 1954, all glass lizards were considered to be O. ventralis.
  • It’s the only species in Ophisaurus that has green among its other colors.
  • Once in a while you’ll find an individual with vestigial hind legs.
  • The eastern glass lizard is the longest and heaviest glass lizard in its range.
  • The glass lizard doesn’t slither like a snake but needs to use its sides to push off of objects to get moving. This can be difficult if the reptile is stranded on a highway.

Scientific Name

This glass lizard’s scientific name is Ophisaurus ventralis. The genus name comes from the Greek words ophio which means “snake” and sauros, which means “lizard.” Ventralis is Latin and means “of the belly.” This describes how the animal moves. There are only one species and no subspecies.

Appearance

The eastern glass lizard is unusual because it is a legless lizard that many people might mistake for a snake. But if you look closely, you will see two tiny earholes and you may see the lizard blink. Ear openings and eyelids are identification markers that separate even a legless lizard from a snake that lacks ears and doesn’t blink. The shape of the reptile’s head is another way to differentiate it from a snake, for the glass lizard has a somewhat longer head and a more pointed snout than most snakes have. It also can’t unhinge its jaw to gulp down large prey.

The eastern glass lizard grows to between 18 and 43 inches in length, and most of that length is made up of the tail, which can be twice as long as the body. In the case of both legless lizards and snakes, the tail begins when the spine no longer has rib bones. The body of this species of glass lizard also has a groove on each side, and the scales at the top and bottom of the body are the same size.

The lizard has smooth and somewhat glossy scales that come in colors of brown, green, tan, and white with dark mottling. The belly is white and unmarked. Some specimens have a tan stripe on the back that’s about six scales wide and may continue to the end of the tail. Adults in this species have white bars or marks on the sides of the neck and head and do not have stripes below the lateral groove. This also distinguishes them from other kinds of glass lizards.

The Eastern glass lizard, unlike a snake, has ear holes and blinks its eyes.

iStock.com/Dan Rieck

Behavior

The eastern glass lizard is a burrower that is most often active during the day and at dusk. It is often found beneath trash, flower pots, or discarded boards and searches for prey both above and below ground. On warm days it will bask, but only with part of its body exposed to the sun. The lizard hibernates in the winter after burrowing into the soil just south of the frost line.

Famously, if it is caught, a glass lizard may detach its tail which continues to wriggle in the jaws or hand of whatever caught it. The tail often breaks apart, which is why the reptile is called the glass lizard. Once there was a myth that these pieces could grow back together, but it was found to be untrue. The lizard does grow back some of its tail, but this can take years, and the new tail is a different color than the rest of the animal. It is unusual to find a wild glass lizard with an intact tail.

The lizard might also try to bite if it’s handled, but its bite is nonvenomous.

Habitat

Eastern glass lizards are only found in the southeastern United States. As borrowers, they prefer wet habitats and can even be found at the shoreline. They’re also found in pine woods, moist grasslands, wet meadows, and near marshes.

Diet

This lizard is a carnivore and basically eats whatever animal it can handle. This can include members of its species. It mostly eats invertebrates from insects to crayfish to spiders to snails and millipedes, but it also eats bird’s eggs and has been known to eat young mice, snakes, and unrelated lizards.

The glass lizard finds its prey through scent and vision. The one thing that limits its diet is that it can’t unhinge its jaws to swallow very large prey the way a snake can. This is another point of identification when it comes to telling the glass lizard from a snake.

Predators and Threats

Though the glass lizard is itself an efficient predator, it is also part of the diet of a variety of carnivores. They include birds of prey, foxes, raccoons, snakes, and opossums. Wild pigs may eat the eggs. Other threats include climate disruption and traffic accidents, as it is difficult for the lizard to move on a smooth road or highway.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Eastern glass lizards appear to mate in the spring, and the female lays from five to 15 eggs in the summer after excavating a nest in sand or soft loam under a log or leaves or other material. Once laid, she’ll coil around them. She won’t defend the eggs, but if they are dispersed, she’ll roll them back into the nest.

The eggs hatch after 50 to 60 days and the babies are independent at birth and receive no more care from their mother. They are about 6 to 8 inches long, tan-colored, and have dark stripes along their sides that will fade as they mature. These lizards have a lifespan of between 10 and 30 years.

Population

Scientists don’t know the exact population of this lizard, but it is widespread in locations where it is found, and, according to IUCN, its conservation status is least concern.

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Eastern Glass Lizard FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are eastern glass lizards carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Eastern glass lizards are carnivores.

What is a group of eastern glass lizards called?

Like other lizards, a group of glass lizards is called a lounge.

Why isn't the eastern glass lizard considered a snake?

Eastern glass lizards aren’t snakes because they have ears and movable eyelids. They can’t adjust their jaws when they swallow their prey, and all the scales on the top and bottom of their bodies are the same size. They also have to push off against something to move, unlike snakes.

What does the eastern glass lizard eat?

These reptiles mostly eat invertebrates such as insects, but they also eat bird eggs, small lizards, small snakes, mice, and smaller conspecifics.

What is the eastern glass lizard most similar to?

The eastern glass lizard is most similar to other glass lizards in its genus, Ophisaurus. These include O. attenuatus, O. compressus, and O. mimicus. All of these glass lizards are found in North America and are sometimes mistaken for the eastern glass lizard, O. ventralis. One help in the identification of O. ventralis is the lack of stripes beneath the groove in its side and green scales.

Are Eastern glass lizards poisonous?

Eastern glass lizards are not poisonous.

How do you care for an Eastern glass lizard?

Because not too much is known about the needs of eastern glass lizards, having one as a pet is probably a job for a person who has experience taking care of reptiles. Because they can grow rather long, it is important that they be given a large enclosure. Experts also recommend UVB light to make sure the animal gets enough vitamin D and that the basking temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit provided by a heat lamp. The lizard probably does best at 65 to 75 percent humidity levels and should be misted once in the morning and then at night.

Since the pet lizard is a burrower, it needs a substrate that it can dig into easily. There are places that provide a substrate that is just the thing for a burrowing reptile. Experts recommend it be at least 4 inches deep. It should be changed every three or four months and cleaned every day.

The lizard also needs places to hide, which can include tubes or artificial or live plants. When it comes to food the lizard should be fed insects that are smaller than its head. Babies need to be fed every day, while adults can be fed two or three times a week. The glass lizard isn’t fussy about its insect diet and will take mealworms, earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, and even pinkies. These items are best dusted with vitamin and mineral dust.

The lizard must also have access to fresh water. Its bowl needs to be changed every day, and it should be disinfected at least once a week or whenever it becomes too dirty.

Finally, though it may be tempting to pick them up, glass lizards really don’t like to be handled. They may bite if they’re surprised and even detach their tail. If the animal needs to be picked up, it should be gently picked up from below rather than grabbed from above.

Are glass lizards rare?

They are not particularly rare, but since they are burrowers they may be hard to find in the wild.

Why are they called glass lizards?

They’re called glass lizards because their tails break off and even shatter when they’re grabbed. This doesn’t kill the lizard but startles and distracts any predators.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_glass_lizard
  2. ITIS, Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=174110#null
  3. Savannah River Ecology Laboratory: UGA, Available here: https://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/ophven.htm
  4. Virginia Herpetological Society, Available here: https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/lizards/eastern-glass-lizard/eastern_glass_lizard.php
  5. Outdoor Alabama, Available here: https://www.outdooralabama.com/lizards/eastern-glass-lizard
  6. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina, Available here: https://www.outdooralabama.com/lizards/eastern-glass-lizard
  7. African Conservation Experience, Available here: https://www.outdooralabama.com/lizards/eastern-glass-lizard
  8. Reptile Supply, Available here: https://reptilesupply.com/blogs/care-sheets/how-to-care-for-your-eastern-glass-lizard

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