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3 Cool Facts about Legless Lizards

Learn three cool facts about legless lizards from reptile and amphibian expert Jungle Bob in this Howcast video.


One of the most unusual reptiles for sure is the Legless lizard. Hello. This is a Russian variety. We see these in the United States too, down south in Florida they call them Glass lizards, very similar, because they have a couple of unique characteristics.

First thing is, anybody seeing this for the first time says, "Jungle Bob, that's not a lizard, that's a snake, because it's got no arms and legs." Well, if I'm a scientist and I didn't make this up, but scientist classifies snakes as animals that do not have any arms or legs, of course, but snakes also can not have ears or an eyelid that they can shut. So, they give that designation to lizards. If an animal or reptiles, a cold blooded, scaly animal, has no arms and legs, does not mean it's a snake. But if it has an ear opening, and if it has the ability to close its eyes, it is a lizard.

One or the other would make him a lizard. Now if you look really close at this animal, he's got about an inch behind his eye, he's got a true ear opening. So, this is a lizard, not a snake. And then if it's nighttime, of if I can touch his eyes, he would close his eyes, just like you and I do, whereas snakes can never do that. So, an animal that has, a reptile that has an ear opening and/or an eyelid, has to be classified as a lizard, not a snake, and that's what we have here.

This little guy is from the Ukraine area of Russia. Over there they call him the Scheltopusik, I don't know why but that's his name in Russian. Here we call him the Legless lizard, and down in Florida there's another species called the Glass lizard. They're called Glass lizards because of their ability to do that trick called autotonomy, where they will just snap off their tail at a moment's notice. If something was to grab them by the tail, he would leave it behind that I'm trying very hard for that not to happen.

The anal opening of all reptiles, and birds actually, is called the cloaca, and on this particular animal, right where my finger is, is where his opening is. So, from that point down, all the way down, is his tail. That's all tail, that's the end of his body, way up top there. So, that whole thing would snap off, which would be a shame; we don't want for that to happen.

You see the way he moved his body when he wanted to move, lizards do that type of a roll. Snakes don't usually try to get away from somebody holding them by rotating their body, lizards do that, alligators do that, but he's got that in his DNA, to roll over like that. So, most people conject that these animals at one point had arms and legs. We know from scientific and fossil records that snakes descended from lizards, no question about it, and this is an animal I think is kind of an in-betweener.

So, he's a great animal to talk about when we're doing educational shows, to talk about the Russian legless lizard. He's a ferocious carnivore. He devours mice, but he can't grab them with his legs and arms; he kind of just swallows them.

He doesn't have the same kind of body strength to wrap up a prey item like a snake would, but he kind of walks over it. So, one of the most unusual animals we can see in the reptile world, the legless lizard from Russia. He can open his mouth there, and he didn't bite me, so this is a good episode.

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