Ophisaurus attenuatus is found in the U.S., from central Illinois west into central Kansas
and south through eastern Texas, extending across the Mississippi into southern Florida
and up to east North Carolina and southeast Virginia. There are isolated occurences in
central Wisconsin. The two subspecies are separated by the
Mississippi, with O. a. attenuatus in the west and O. a. longicaudus in
the east (Conant and Collins, 1998).
Found in a variety of habitats within its range including dray grasslands, wooded areas, oak savannas, sand praries, old fields and pine barrens (Wisconsin, 1999).
Ophisourus attenuatus is approximately 22-42 inches long with an extremely long tail which can be up to two and a half times longer than that of head and body combined. This lizard has
large, plate-like scales that have bony plates called osteoderms under them, causing the lizard feel stiff when handled (Harding, 1997). There are lateral grooves, which appear as a small groove on either side of the lizard, approximately one-third up from the venter. Legs are completely absent and external ears are visible (University of Texas, 1999).
Upon first inspection, many people believe that O. attenuatus is a snake. But its pointed snout, stiff body scales and movable eyelids will distinguish this legless lizard from
Color varies from brown, tannish bronze to pale yellow with a dark middorsal stripe that is dark brown to black with two lateral stripes below the lateral groves. The side of the
head has scattered brown markings and the underside is white to a pale yellow (Wisconsin,1999).
The two subspecies can be distinguished by proportions and size. Ophisaurus a. attenuatus has a tail less than 2.4 times the length of the body while O. a.longicaudus has a tail more than 2.4 times the length of the rest of the body and is, on average,larger in overall length.
Sexes can be hard to distinguish with males having slightly wider heads and a longer average length. Juveniles can be distinguished by their more contrasting colors (Harding,
Mating occurs throughout May with the female laying her clutch in June or early in July (Harding, 1997). The female then exhibits brooding in which the body temperature will rise 0.3-0.4 degrees Celsius and she will incubate the eggs (Glass Lizard, 1999). The young will hatch out after 50-60 days and grow quickly to maturity (Harding, 1997).
When caught, O. attenuates writhes and frantically twists to escape, often breaking off its long tail into several pieces. When it grows back, it will be shorter and darker than the original (Wisconsin, 1999).
It is active from May to September, though may stay hidden by burrowing in sandy soil or leaf litter; becoming very active with sunny weather (Wisconsin, 1999). O. attenuatus
uses its sides to push off of vegetation and other debris moving in a sideways motion(another difference between snakes!). This has led to problems as their habitat becomes fragmented by roads, they can get onto the pavement but become stranded when there is nothing more to push off of (Wisconsin, 1999).
This species is carnivorous, and will eat just about any small animal that it finds that will fit in its mouth. This includes beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders and small vertebrates.
In Wisconsin, the Ophisaurus attenuatus has an endangered status, but for the rest of the U.S., there is no special status (Wisconsin, 1999).
Jessica Fawley (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
"Glass Lizard" (On-line). Accessed 10/23/99 at http://sonic.net/~menssk/legless.html.
"Herps of Texas-Lizards" (On-line). Accessed 10/24/99 at http://zo.utexas.edu/research/txherps/hzards/ophisaurus.attenuatus.html.
"Protecting the Wild Ones" (On-line). Accessed 10/23/99 at http://www.anr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eed/earth/grasnza/html.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Mi: University of Michigan Press.