AUSTRALIAN LEGLESS LIZARDS
Story by Clive Crouch (OAM) – Clive Crouch Environmental Research (All information and text is subject to copyright and cannot be reproduced without permission)
STATUS – COMMON – CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
LOCATION – All habitat types throughout Australia
DESCRIBING LEGLESS LIZARDS
The Wimmera is home to several species of Legless-lizards, all of which are harmless to humans. Unfortunately for them though, they are often killed by people that mistake them for small snakes. Like all reptiles, Legless-lizards play an important role in helping to maintain the balance of nature in our local ecosystems.
In our grasslands and woodlands, the 40cm long OLIVE LEGLESS LIZARD – Delma inornata can sometimes be found under pieces of bark or wood. When they are disturbed, they can be very active, often leaping several centimeters off the ground in their haste to escape. In addition to being very active, they can also shed their tail, which in some instances, may break into several pieces; all wriggling violently. This can attract the attention of a predator and allow the lizard to escape. Over a period of time the lizard will grow a new tail. In the grasslands in the eastern part of the Wimmera, the beautiful little STRIPED LEGLESS LIZARD – Delma impar can sometimes be be found, but it is quite rare and is listed as an endangered species.
In the Mallee country, several species of Legless Lizards are found, including BURTON’S LEGLESS LIZARD – Lialis burtonis, the COMMON SCALY FOOT – Pygopus lepidopodus and Spinifex Legless Lizards, also tiny STRIATED WORM-LIZARD – Aprasia striolata and PINK-TAILED WORM-LIZARD – Aprasia parapulchella.
BURTON’S LEGLESS LIZARD – Lialis burtonis can grow to 50cm in length and they are often beautifully patterned, with dots and dashes of various shades of orange, grey, brown and black. They have a sharp-pointed snout and rows of very sharp little teeth, which they use to great advantage in catching and eating small skinks and geckos.
The SCALY-FOOT grows to a similar size and can also be found in a variety of shades from a plain slaty-grey, to being brilliantly patterned with lines, dots, dashes of orange, brown, grey and black.
As its name suggests, the SPINIFEX LEGLESS-LIZARD is usually found in clumps of spinifex, where it feeds on insects that shelter amongst the prickly spikes. It grows to about 25cm long, is brown-grey in colour and has four or five vertical bars on it’s neck.
The WORM-LIZARDS, which grow to only about 12cm in length are rarely seen, as they spend most of their time underground, emerging at night to hunt for small insects such as termites.
DID YOU KNOW?
Although Legless Lizards look superficially like snakes, there are many differences. Lizards, with the exceptions of goannas, have a flat tongue, while snakes and goannas have a forked tongue. Lizards also have an external ear opening, but snakes don’t. About one-third of a Legless Lizard’s length is made up of it’s body — the other two-thirds is tail which it can shed to avoid predation. Where the body ends and the tail starts are tiny flaps, which are really vestigial legs; snakes have no legs. Unfortunately for our local Legless Lizards though, most people get such a fright when they encounter a snake-like reptile that they aren’t going to take a close look to see whether it has external ear-openings, a flat tongue, or vestigial legs before they kill it with a shovel.