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Legless Lizards

Legless lizard is a broad term used to classify any lizard that has no legs or legs that have a diminished use and are not useable for locomotion. This does not only include the family pygopodidae but six other families with many species that also fit into the limbless categorization. Pygopodidae has 44 species of which all but two are endemic to Australia, the two non-endemic species are also found in Papua New Guinea.

Legless lizards can easily be confused with snakes as they look similar at first glance and some legless lizards can be over half a metre in length making identification even harder. They also behave like snakes in some instances, such as rearing the head and fore body off the ground when threatened. This mistaken identity can sometimes lead to the unwarranted demise of the lizard. They are in fact far more closely related to geckos than snakes and on closer inspection there are several other differences between snakes and legless lizards. Firstly legless lizards actually have back limbs, even though they are usually flat spade like protrusions held tight against the abdomen and very inconspicuous. They also have broad tongues and can be seen using the tongue to wipe the clear the eye much like gecko’s do. Unlike most snakes they also have distinguishable ear openings. Some species often make squeaking sounds and they quite readily dispense with their tails as a decoy when threatened which is also unlike snakes. The tail of a legless lizard is well over half its entire length and can in fact be as long as 80% of its length, depending on the species, whereas snakes have long bodies and short tails. The biggest and most obvious difference is that many legless lizards have longitudinal stipes or markings whereas there are no snakes that have this.

There are 44 species in Australia, which vary in size from the 7.5cm neck barred delma (Delma haroldi) to burton’s legless lizard (Lialis burtonis) which has a body length of 60cm.

Legless lizards inhabit open forests and grasslands with good ground cover.  There are both diurnal and nocturnal species.  They are summer breeders and most lay two parchment-shelled eggs per clutch.  Some species also nest communally Most species are insect eaters but Burton’s Legless Lizard is a predator of other lizards.