Legless Lizard vs Snake: What’s the Difference?

Legless lizards and snakes are often confused with one another due to their similar appearance. However, despite their similarities, these two reptiles are quite different. Legless lizards, also known as glass lizards, are a type of lizard that have evolved to lose their limbs and have a long, snake-like body. In contrast, snakes are a type of reptile with a long, slender body and no limbs.

The legless lizard and the snake face off, coiled and ready to strike in the dry desert sand

One of the defining characteristics that separates legless lizards from snakes is their ears. Legless lizards have visible ear openings, while snakes do not. Additionally, legless lizards have eyelids that can blink, while snakes have a clear scale that covers their eyes. These differences are just the beginning of what sets these two reptiles apart.

Key Takeaways

  • Legless lizards have visible ear openings and eyelids that can blink, while snakes do not.
  • Snakes are a type of reptile with a long, slender body and no limbs, while legless lizards have a long, snake-like body but can have legs.
  • Despite their similarities, legless lizards and snakes are quite different in terms of their diet, hunting behavior, and other characteristics.

Defining Characteristics

Physical Traits

Both snakes and legless lizards are elongated, limbless reptiles. However, there are several physical traits that distinguish them from each other. One of the most noticeable differences is the presence of external ears and eyelids in legless lizards. Snakes, on the other hand, lack both of these features. Instead, they have a clear, protective scale over their eyes, which is known as a spectacle.

Another difference between snakes and legless lizards is their body shape. Snakes have a long, slender body that tapers towards the tail, whereas legless lizards have a more cylindrical body shape. Additionally, legless lizards have a distinct neck, which is absent in most snakes.

Locomotion Methods

Both snakes and legless lizards move without the use of limbs. However, they use different methods of locomotion. Snakes use a combination of lateral undulation and sidewinding to move forward. Lateral undulation involves the snake moving its body in a wavy motion, while sidewinding involves the snake lifting its body off the ground and moving sideways.

Legless lizards, on the other hand, move using a type of serpentine motion known as concertina locomotion. In this method, the lizard anchors its body to a surface using its scales and then pulls its head and tail forward, causing the middle of its body to bunch up. It then releases the anchoring point and stretches out its body, propelling itself forward.

In summary, while snakes and legless lizards share some similarities, such as their elongated, limbless bodies, they have distinct physical traits and locomotion methods that set them apart from each other.

Taxonomy and Classification

Scientific Classification of Legless Lizards

Legless lizards are reptiles that belong to the family Anguidae. They are also known as “glass lizards” because their tails can break off and regenerate. Legless lizards are often mistaken for snakes because of their similar appearance and behavior. However, they differ from snakes in several ways, including having eyelids and ear openings, and a more rigid body structure that allows for limited lateral bending.

The scientific classification of legless lizards is as follows:

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Squamata
Family Anguidae

Scientific Classification of Snakes

Snakes are also reptiles and belong to the order Squamata. They are characterized by their elongated bodies, lack of limbs, and ability to swallow prey whole. Unlike legless lizards, snakes do not have eyelids or ear openings. They “hear” by feeling vibrations through their jawbones.

The scientific classification of snakes is as follows:

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Squamata
Suborder Serpentes

In summary, legless lizards and snakes are both reptiles, but they belong to different families and have distinct physical and behavioral differences. Understanding their scientific classification is important in identifying and studying these fascinating animals.

Habitat and Distribution

A legless lizard and a snake coiled together in a dry, rocky habitat. The lizard's smooth, elongated body contrasts with the snake's sleek, muscular form

Legless Lizard Habitats

Legless lizards are found in a variety of habitats ranging from deserts to forests. According to ReptileHow.com, they prefer to live in underground burrows or in dense vegetation. They are commonly found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are also found in Australia, where they are known as glass snakes. Legless lizards are not as widespread as snakes and tend to be less common in certain regions.

Snake Habitats

Snakes have adapted to live in a wide range of habitats. According to American Oceans, they can be found in aquatic environments, forests, deserts, and grasslands. They are also found in urban areas. Snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are more widespread than legless lizards and can be found in a variety of ecosystems.

In summary, while legless lizards prefer to live in underground burrows or in dense vegetation, snakes can be found in a wide range of habitats. Snakes are more widespread than legless lizards and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Diet and Hunting Behavior

A legless lizard hunts a snake, stalking it through the dry grass before striking with lightning speed

Legless Lizard Diet

Legless lizards have a diverse diet, which includes insects, spiders, snails, and small mammals. Some species of legless lizards are known to eat other lizards as well. They are active hunters, and their hunting behavior is similar to that of many lizards. They actively search for prey, using their sense of smell and vision to locate it. Once they locate their prey, they use their powerful jaws to capture it.

Snake Diet

Snakes, on the other hand, have a more restricted diet, which mainly consists of rodents, birds, and other small mammals. They are skilled hunters and use a variety of hunting techniques, including ambush and pursuit. Some species of snakes are also known to eat other snakes. Snakes have a unique feeding mechanism, where they swallow their prey whole. They have an extremely flexible jaw that allows them to swallow prey much larger than their head.

In summary, legless lizards have a broader diet than snakes, and they actively hunt their prey. Snakes, on the other hand, have a more restricted diet, and they use a variety of hunting techniques, including ambush and pursuit, to capture their prey.

Reproduction and Lifespan

A legless lizard and a snake facing each other, both coiled and ready to strike, surrounded by dry desert terrain

Legless Lizard Reproduction

Legless lizards reproduce sexually, with fertilization occurring internally. Mating usually takes place in the spring, and females lay eggs in the summer. The number of eggs laid varies depending on the species, with some laying as few as two and others laying up to 20 or more. The eggs are usually laid in a nest or burrow and take several weeks to hatch. Hatchlings are born with fully functional legs, which they lose as they mature.

The lifespan of legless lizards varies depending on the species and environmental factors. In general, they tend to live for several years, with some species living up to 20 years in captivity.

Snake Reproduction

Snakes also reproduce sexually, with fertilization occurring internally. Mating usually takes place in the spring or fall, depending on the species. Females lay eggs or give birth to live young, depending on the species. Some snakes lay eggs in a nest or burrow, while others retain the eggs inside their body until they hatch. Live-bearing snakes give birth to fully formed young that are ready to fend for themselves.

The lifespan of snakes varies depending on the species and environmental factors. In general, they tend to live for several years, with some species living up to 30 years or more in captivity.

Conservation Status

A legless lizard and a snake face off in a desert habitat, both coiled and ready to strike, with sparse vegetation in the background

Legless Lizard Conservation

Legless lizards are not as popular as snakes, and therefore, not as well-studied. However, they are still important members of the ecosystem and are facing threats to their survival. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), several species of legless lizards are listed as vulnerable or endangered due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation caused by human activities such as agriculture, urbanization, and mining.

One such example is the blunt-headed vine snake (Imantodes cenchoa), which is often mistaken for a legless lizard due to its small and stubby legs. This species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to habitat loss and degradation caused by deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization.

Snake Conservation

Snakes, on the other hand, are more well-known and have been subject to more research and conservation efforts. According to the IUCN, several snake species are listed as threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, overexploitation, and climate change.

One such example is the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi), which is listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) due to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urbanization, agriculture, and forestry practices. The USFWS has implemented conservation measures such as habitat restoration, captive breeding, and reintroduction programs to help recover this species.

In conclusion, while both legless lizards and snakes face threats to their survival, snakes are more well-known and have received more conservation attention. However, it is important to remember that both of these animals play important roles in their respective ecosystems and should be protected.

Interaction with Humans

Legless Lizards in Human Culture

Legless lizards are not as well-known as snakes, but they have still made their way into human culture. In some areas, they are considered a good omen and are thought to bring good luck. In other areas, they are seen as a bad omen and are associated with evil or danger. Some cultures even believe that legless lizards have healing properties and use them in traditional medicine. However, it is important to note that there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Snakes in Human Culture

Snakes have played a significant role in human culture for thousands of years. In some cultures, they are revered as symbols of fertility, wisdom, or protection. In others, they are feared and associated with evil or danger. Snakes have been depicted in art, literature, and mythology throughout history. For example, the ancient Egyptians worshipped a snake goddess named Wadjet, while the Greeks and Romans associated snakes with healing and medicine. In many cultures, snakes are also associated with the concept of rebirth or transformation, due to their ability to shed their skin.

Despite their cultural significance, snakes and legless lizards are often feared or misunderstood by humans. This fear can lead to negative interactions, such as people killing snakes or legless lizards out of fear. It is important to remember that both snakes and legless lizards play important roles in their ecosystems and should be respected and protected.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you distinguish between a legless lizard and a snake?

Distinguishing between a legless lizard and a snake can be challenging, but there are a few key differences. Legless lizards have ear openings and moveable eyelids, while snakes lack both. Additionally, legless lizards have a more robust body structure, with a distinct head and tail, while snakes have a more elongated, cylindrical body. Finally, legless lizards have scales that are slightly larger than those of snakes.

What are the behavioral differences between legless lizards and snakes?

Legless lizards and snakes have some behavioral differences. Legless lizards are primarily insectivorous, while snakes are carnivorous and will eat a variety of prey, including rodents and birds. Legless lizards are also less likely to bite than snakes, and their bites are typically less harmful to humans. Finally, legless lizards are more likely to live in burrows or under rocks, while snakes are more likely to be found in trees or on the ground.

Are there any legless lizards that are venomous?

While some species of lizards are venomous, there are no known venomous legless lizards. However, some legless lizards have sharp teeth and can deliver a painful bite.

What are the habitat preferences of legless lizards compared to snakes?

Legless lizards and snakes have different habitat preferences. Legless lizards are typically found in moist areas with plenty of cover, such as under rocks or in leaf litter. Snakes, on the other hand, are found in a wider range of habitats, from deserts to forests. Some species of snakes also live in aquatic environments.

Can legless lizards regenerate their tails like some other lizard species?

Yes, some species of legless lizards are capable of regenerating their tails. This is a common trait among lizards, and it allows them to escape from predators by leaving their tail behind as a distraction.

How does the tongue appearance differ between legless lizards and snakes?

The tongue appearance of legless lizards and snakes is different. Legless lizards have a fleshy, forked tongue that they use to sense their environment and locate prey. Snakes also have a forked tongue, but it is longer and more slender than that of legless lizards.