Island Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus compressus)

Island Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus compressus)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: 15 – 24 in (38 – 61 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. Although generally smaller than the more common eastern and slender glass lizards, the island glass lizard is also brown or yellowish in coloration. This species is best distinguished from other glass lizards by the presence of a single dark stripe down each side of the body, above the lateral groove, and, often, a dark dorsal stripe.

Range and Habitat: Island glass lizards are found along the coast of South Carolina in coastal and southern Georgia. Like the slender glass lizard, this species tend to prefer drier habitats than eastern glass lizards and is most common in sandy scrub habitats. As its name implies, this species is often found on offshore islands.

Habits: Glass lizards forage actively by day in open habitats but are commonly found taking refuge beneath boards and other debris. Some have reported that this species is most active in the early evening. When seized, glass lizards commonly break off all or part of their tail (which makes up more than half of their total length) which later regrows. With the predator distracted by the wriggling tail, the lizard is free to escape.

Prey: Although the ecology of the island glass lizard is poorly understood, this species most likely feeds on insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. Unlike snakes, lizards have rigid jaw bones and thus are unable to eat meals larger than the size of their head.

Reproduction: Although reproduction in this species remains poorly understood it is probably that female mimic glass lizards lay several eggs in early summer and attend the eggs until they hatch.

Abundance: The island glass lizard is a cryptic species and it is uncertain how widespread or common it is. At present it is thought to be uncommon in most areas.

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.