Slender Glass Lizard Ophisaurus attenuatus

Adult from northeastern Illinois

Identification

Not all legless reptiles in Indiana are snakes; meet the Slender Glass Lizard. These unique lizards have glossy-smooth scales and can be distinguished from snakes readily by their external ear openings and eyelids (they can blink). Most Slender Glass Lizard are brown to tan with dark stripes from head to tail tip at mid body and laterally. There are also diffuse dark spots on the side of the head. These legless lizards get their name from being “fragile” (like glass). When picked up, they readily break off part, or all, of their tail. To reiterate, their tails are not simply easy to accidentally pull off, the animal can, and often will, fracture the tail itself. Given that their tails are a large proportion of their overall length, Slender Glass Lizard may appear to break in half when picked up or even touched. Adults may reach two to three feet (60-90 cm) in overall length, making this Indiana’s largest lizard.

Adult from Jasper County
Adult from southwestern Missouri

Slender Glass Lizard are incredibly unique reptiles and are almost impossible to mistake for other lizard species. The distinctively non-serpentine facial characteristics mentioned above can quickly separate them from any Indiana snake as well.

Ecology and Conservation

Named because of its ability to voluntarily detach, or shatter its tail in several pieces, the Slender Glass Lizard occurs in prairie habitats across its range. They are most often associated with oak-savannas and sand prairies, but may be found in partially forested areas and even in the vicinity of wetlands.

In the Midwest, this species is listed as State Endangered in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Sandy scrub in Newton County

Distribution

The natural range for the Slender Glass Lizard is from northwestern Indiana, south and west through western Louisiana to southern Texas, and north to the southern edge of Nebraska. The Slender Glass Lizard is also found in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.

These fascinating lizards are denizens of remnant prairies and savannas in northwestern Indiana.

Taxonomy

Only one subspecies of the Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus) is known to occur in Indiana--the Western Slender Glass Lizard (O. a. attenuatus). These lizards are Indiana's only representatives of the family Anguidae.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NT.

Minton, S. A. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)
Photographs