The Glass Lizards (Ophisaurus)

Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus longicaudus)

Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis )

Mimic Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus mimicus)

Island Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus compressus)

Glass Lizards are a genus of lizards which have evolved to be without legs. To the casual observer, these lizards are mistaken to be snakes. However, unlike snakes, they have eyelids and external ear openings. They move in snake-like fashion; however, their bodies lack the suppleness of snakes. Snakes have long bodies and short tails. Glass Lizards, like other lizards have long tails and short bodies. In Glass Lizards, the tail maybe more than 2/3 of the total length. The Glass Lizards are South Carolina's largest native lizards.

Glass Lizards are often mistakenly called Glass Snakes. The "glass" descriptor comes from the brittleness of their tails. Like most of our lizards, the tail of the Glass Lizard will easily break off from the body. This is a defensive mechanism. The broken tail will continue to writhe for several minutes. Since the tail is the larger part of the animal, a predator will turn its attention to the tail while the still living lizard scurries to safety. The tail may break into more than one piece. A person, believing the lizard to be a snake and attempting to beat a Glass Lizard to death with a stick, will likey cause the tail to break. Hence the name "Glass Snake." Glass Lizards can regenerate their broken tails; however, the regrown tail is never as long or as well-formed as the original tail.

There are four species of Glass Lizards native to South Carolina. Glass Lizards are also found in the other southeastern coastal states from southeastern Virginia to the toe of Louisiana. There is a western species of the Slender Glass Lizard which if found from western Louisiana to Illinois to eastern Nebraska to eastern Texas, and with an isolated population in southwestern Wisconsin.

The Slender Glass Lizard is the most wide-spread of the Glass Lizards. In South Carolina it is potentially found throughout the state. (My personal experience has been that I have never found a live or dead specimen in the western piedmont). Slender Glass Lizards have dark stripes down the lenght of the back and sides. These stripes will become blurred in adult specimens. Adults range from 24 to 42 inches in length.

The Eastern Glass Lizard is found in South Carolina from the sandhils to the coast. Eastern Glass Lizards have a greenish background color. Adults range from 24 to 42 inches in length.

Juvenile Eastern Glass Lizard

The Mimic and Island Glass Lizards are smaller, with adults ranging from 15 to 24 inches in total length. They are found only in the coastal counties of South Carolina.

Return to SC Lizard Index

updated: June 23, 2010
Contact: South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians