Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis)

Glass lizard
Glass lizard

<observed> May 30, 2020, Mount Pleasant residential neighborhood near Rathall Creek on the Wando River

While walking in my neighborhood, I came upon what I initially thought was a snake. Upon closer inspection I realized that I had found a glass lizard. It had eyelids, ear openings and a lateral groove running down its side. I suspect that this lizard may have lost a portion of its tail because of the different colored section at the end.

Description: 18 – 43 in (46 – 108 cm). Glass lizards are long, slender, legless lizards that superficially resemble snakes. They differ from snakes, though, in that they have moveable eyelids, external ear openings, and inflexible jaws. The eastern glass lizard is the longest and heaviest glass lizard in our region and is generally light brown or yellowish to greenish in coloration. Scales are smooth, squarish to rhomboidal in shape, overlapping, and glossy. There are no apparent sexual differences in color and pattern.

This species is best distinguished from other glass lizards by the absence of a dark dorsal stripe or dark markings below the lateral groove (defining the body of the lizard it permits expansion when the body is distended with food or eggs) and the presence of several vertical whitish bars just behind the head. Older individuals are less boldly patterned than younger individuals, often developing a greenish or speckled coloration; young are khaki-colored and normally with a broad longitudinal stripe on each side of the back. Young glass lizards reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years. Glass lizards have an average lifespan of 10 to 30 years in the wild.

Range and Habitat: Eastern glass lizards are found throughout the southern and eastern portions of Georgia and South Carolina but are most common in sandy areas of the Coastal Plain. Although these lizards may be found in a variety of habitats, they are most common in flatwoods and around wetlands in sandy habitats. Additionally, eastern glass lizards are very common in coastal dune habitats and are sometimes even found beneath debris at the tide line.

Habits: Glass lizards forage actively by day in open habitats but are commonly found taking refuge beneath boards and other debris. When seized, glass lizards commonly break off all or part of their tail (which makes up more than half of their total length) along fracture planes. Fracture planes are zones of softer tissue in the tail bones of some species of lizards that permit the tail to break off easily when it is seized by a predator. The tail regrows and the regenerated tip is sharply pointed and of a different color than the remaining part of the original tail. With the predator distracted by the wriggling tail, the lizard is free to escape.

Prey: Glass lizards eat a wide variety of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates as well as small reptiles and probably young rodents.

Reproduction:  Female glass lizards are oviparous and lay several 5-15 eggs under a log, board, or other cover object in early summer. The female apparently attends the eggs until they hatch later in the summer.

Abundance: Eastern glass lizards can be quite common in some habitats.

Notes: Glass lizards earned their name by their propensity to “shatter” by breaking their tail, often in several pieces. The common belief that these pieces can rejoin is a myth, although the tail will slowly regrow over a period of months or years. They move quickly and may thrash around vigorously or autotomize the tail when held.

  • Scientific Classification:
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Anguidae
  • Genus: Ophisaurus
  • Species: O. ventralis

Other glass lizard species occurring in coastal SC is the Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuates), Mimic Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus mimicus) and Island Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus compressus). They are differentiated by size and longitudinal stripes.

Resources:

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, https://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/ophven.htm

Virginia Herpetological Society, https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/lizards/eastern-glass-lizard/eastern_glass_lizard.php

Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins, Peterson Field Guides, Reptiles and Amphibians, Eastern/Central North America, 1998 by Houghton Mifflin Co.

Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_glass_lizard