Added September 2003. Last updated 6 June 2021: added entry for O. ludovici and updated entries for O. buettikoferi, O. gracilis, O. harti, O. sokolovi and O. wegneri, and Bibliography.

Ophisaurus: Glass Lizards



The Ophisaurus, or Glass Lizards, are found in both the Old World (North Africa and Asia) and the New (North America). The common name derives from the ease with which they shed their tails should they feel threatened. Some keepers have kept North American species, but much is still unknown about the Asian species, some of which are in any case fairly rare. Even the North American species were relatively obscure as recently as the 1940s, Hobart M Smith listing the species all as O. ventralis but noting at the end of his entry on them (in Handbook of Lizards) that “Scarcely any lizard of the United States is more commonly known and more widely distributed and yet so inadequately studied”. All are smaller than the Scheltopusik, Pseudopus apodus, which was formerly considered part of this genus.

Boulenger gave the characteristics of the genus as follows: lateral fold; scales squarish-rhomboidal, forming straight longitudinal and transverse series; limbs absent externally, or reduced to a rudiment of the hind pair; teeth with conical or sub-spherical crowns; pterygoid teeth; palatine and vomerine teeth present or absent. However this definition included the European scheltopusik, Ophisaurus (now Pseudopus) apodus.

The tail is usually the largest part of the body in this genus, varying from three-fifths to two-thirds of the total length. Most species have fracture planes, but some (including O. compressus) do not, and although this does not prevent autotomy, it makes it harder and more stressful, and regeneration is less complete. As might be expected from lizards that shed their tails so easily, most if not all are secretive, being terrestrial and capable of burrowing. They feed mainly on worms, slugs and insects, but in captivity will also accept canned cat and dog food and strips of lean meat. Bartlett also notes that they drink frequently. In the North American species at least, the female guards the eggs.

Ophisaurs are seen infrequently in the trade, perhaps because there is a perceived lack of interest in "native herps", although Asian specimens are also sometimes available. An interesting factor is that, like the Scheltopusik, glass lizards apparently learn to recognise their keeper and take food from his/her fingers [Breen], although Wynne maintains that while most tame in captivity, some maintain a “nasty disposition” all their lives. There is definitely a niche here for dedicated amateurs to tell us more about keeping and breeding these lizards. For husbandry suggestions, see Bartlett and Bartlett, Mattison, Rogner and Wynne (the latter admittedly now a rather old account, but there seems to be little dedicated in print to these animals).

2016 update

In 2011 Nguyen et all resurrected the genus Dopasia for the south-east Asian species of Ophisaurus, as well as confirming the validity of the species ludovici which had hitherto been considered a synonym of harti. In addition, some authorities have suggested that O. koellikeri belongs to its own genus, Hyalosaurus.




O. attenuatus, Slender Glass Lizard

O. buettikoferi, Buetikoffer's Glass Lizard

O. ceroni, Ceron's Glass Lizard

O. compressus, Island Glass Lizard

O. formosensis, Formosan Glass Lizard

O. gracilis, Burman Glass Lizard

O. hainanensis, Hainan Glass Lizard

O. harti, Hart's/Chinese Glass Lizard

O. incomptus, Plain-Necked Glass Lizard

O. koellikeri, Koelliker's Glass Lizard

O. ludovici, Ludovic's Glass Lizard

O. mimicus, Mimic Glass Lizard

O. sokolovi, South Vietnam Glass Lizard

O. ventralis, Eastern Glass Lizard

O. wegneri, Wegner's Glass Lizard

Scientific Name

Common Name





O. attenuatus

Slender Glass Lizard

USA (SE Virginia to S Florida, W to C Texas, north up Mississippi Valley to SE Nebraska and NW Indiana: SW Wisconsin)


Favours grassland and open woods as habitat. Of the North American species, apparently tries hardest to escape if restrained and readily autotomises. Also unlike most, does not readily burrow. Scalation: 2 shields on a line from the nasal to the azygous prefrontal; 98 or more scales along lateral groove; 14 longitudinal rows of dorsal plates. Other: ear-opening not larger than nostril. Coloration: narrow dark longitudinal stripes below lateral groove and beneath tail: these are black in young but fade with age. Young also have middorsal stripe or series of dashes. Old adults may be brown with irregular light but dark-edged crossbands on back and tail. Females are sometimes strongly patterned in certain areas. Males are flecked with white when nearing sexual maturity: this pattern intensifies with age, so that old males may have a "salt-and-pepper" appearance [SOURCE: Boulenger, Conant & Collins].

O. a. attenuatus

Western Slender Glass Lizard

W of Mississippi, Illinois and adj. states in North


Length of original tail less than 2.4 times snout-vent length.

O. a. longicaudus

Eastern Slender Glass Lizard

SE Virginia south to S Florida, west to Mississippi and north to Kentucky

46½" max 

May overlap in range with O. mimicus. Length of original tail 2.4 times or more snout-vent length.

O. buettikoferi

Buetikoffer's/ Bornean Glass Lizard

Malaysia, Indonesia (Borneo) 


Mertens (1958) considered this a rare species. It inhabits lowland forests up to 300-1,600m above sea level [Das]. Das claims that it is endemic to Borneo. Scalation details: unpaired prefrontal not in contact with frontal; frontonasal much narrower than width of frontal; interparietal twice as wide as parietal; small scales absent between 1st and 2nd supraoculars; dorsals in 16-18 longitudinal rows; transverse rows 98-105; central 12 dorsal rows keeled. Other: ear opening as large as nostril. Coloration: body pattern of black and blue elements. [SOURCE: Das, Mertens (1958)]

O. ceroni

Ceron's Glass Lizard 

SE Mexico (Veracruz)


Known from only two specimens in the 1960s: current status poorly known. Scalation details: frontonasal divided; supralabials separated from eye by lorilabials and suboculars; scales along lateral fold 98 or more. Other: Coloration: distinct middorsal stripe; vertical white neck bars indistinct or absent.

O. compressus

Island Glass Lizard

USA (SE S Carolina, SE Georgia, Florida)


Found in coastal areas and offshore islands of the three more northerly states, and in scrub pine regions and adjacent flatwoods of peninsular Florida. Scalation details: 1-2 supralabials extend upward to the eye; scales along lateral groove 97 or fewer. Other: fracture planes lacking in caudal vertebrae. Coloration: single dark solid lateral stripe on scale rows 3 and 4 above lateral groove; dark middorsal stripe present, that may be reduced to series of dark dashes; no dark stripes below groove; numerous, roughly vertical, light bars on neck; in older animals, top and sides of neck are mottled with bronze; ventral surfaces immaculate pinkish buff or yellowish. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]

O. formosensis

Formosan Glass Lizard 



Coloration: overall brown,often with yellowish flanks: poorly defined dorsolateral stripe on each side.

O. gracilis

Burman Glass Lizard

N India, S China, N Myanmar, N Indochina


This species is common at lower elevations in the hills of E India, and "not uncommon" in Shillong. In SE Asia it is an inhabitant of submontane and montane forests [Das]. It is found beneath logs and stones and feeds on insects and earthworms. Das notes that it can feign death when threatened. Scalation details (based on Campden-Main): 9 supralabials, of which 1st and 2nd border nostril; 9 infralabials; 6 supraciliaries; 5 supraoculars; frontonasal separated from nostril by 3 scales; 85 transverse rows on lateral fold. Other: ear opening not larger than nostril; 7 premaxillary teeth, 17 maxillary teeth, palatine teeth present, vomerine teeth absent; pterygoid with 3 transverse rows of teeth. Coloration: dorsally light or dark brown; darker lateral band with transverse series of blue black-edged spots. Ventrally orange [Das]. Hatchlings are pinkish-buff with a metallic sheen, black lateral band and fine black line running from lower lip to the vent. Campden-Main's female had a chocolate dorsolateral stripe running from shortly behind the ear to the tip of the tail, and a ventrolateral black stripe running from the angle of the jaw to the vent, becoming a ventrolateral series of small spots disappearing on the posterior third of the tail. The dorsum was tan for the anterior two-thirds of the body, then beige, and then brown on the posterior third of the tail. There were several small irregular spots on the anterior dorsum, and the area between the lateral stripes was cream, and the venter white. Reproduction: breeds in rainy season. Daniel records eggs collected in Shillong in September as hatching later in the month. A clutch contains 4-5 eggs. Hatchlings measure about 11½cm, of which about half is tail. Campden-Main's specimen contained 10 yolked follicles [SOURCE: Boulenger, Campden-Main, Daniel, Das]

O. hainanensis

Hainan Glass Lizard?

China (Hainan Island)


Described in 1984. Scalation details: smooth dorsals and subcaudals; 20 dorsal rows, arranged longitudinally between 2 lateral sulci. Other: ear openings exceptionally tiny, “like pinpoints” [Yang]. Coloration: overall pink; small dark brown speckles on head and on 8 rows of median dorsals from middle of body to tip of tail. [SOURCE: Yang 1984].

O. harti

Hart's/Chinese Glass Lizard

N Vietnam, S China, Taiwan

25"/TL 59½cm

Found in submontane forests and also associated with grassland. Still relatively unknown. Scalation details: frontonasal narrower than frontal width; 2 scales in line between rostral and prefrontals; transverse lateral rows of dorsal scales 94-100; transverse dorsal scales 14-18 (usually 16). Other: very small auricular opening smaller than nostril. Coloration: dorsolaterally brown with dark dorsolateral stripe on each side and turquoise banding or spotting on the dorsum. Reproduction: lays 5-7 eggs.  [SOURCE: Bartlett?, Das]

O. incomptus

Plain-necked Glass Lizard 



Similar to other North American species but differing in coloration in that the whitish markings on the dorsal scales are found on the edges rather than centres, and there are no vertical white bars in the neck area [SOURCE: McConkey (1955)]. McConkey's type specimen was badly damaged in the head area, making it hard to assess scalation details.

O. koellikeri

Koelliker's/North African Glass Lizard

Morocco, Algeria


Found in areas with vegetation cover and some soil moisture: see KKS for examples. Tend to be most active in cooler parts of the day, dropping considerably during the hottest hours. At higher elevations hibernation takes place, but in other areas estivation may also occur during the hottest part of the year. Normally the animals are slow movers but can move very fast when necessary. They spend a considerable amount of time on lookout or roaming. Soft-bodied invertebrate prey is usually taken; KKS have an interesting flow chart of the species' feeding patterns. Satiated individuals ignore prey items. Coluber hippocrepis preys on this species. One interesting characteristic is that moulting appears very rare: KKS note that it was never observed in a captive adult kept longer than 2 years. Scalation details: large prefrontal, as wide as frontal; interparietal larger than parietals or occipital; 5 supraoculars each side. Dorsal scalation: 14 longitudinal and 120 transverse rows, scales rhomboidish and forming straight rows; middorsals obtusely keeled, laterals smooth. Ventral scalation: 10 longitudinal rows. Other: vestigial hindlegs by cloaca are flipper-like, usually at least 2mm long; prominent lateral fold; upper and lower caudal scales are keeled; ear opening hidden. Coloration: overall brownish or olive-brown with a dorsal pattern of dark spots and iridescent speckles. There are two different patterns: (a) dark spots forming transverse bands on every 3rd scale row, with light blue speckles (b) irregularly arranged dark spots and interspersed greenish speckles. In both cases the pattern does not cover the posterior third of the body. Juveniles may have a different patterning, see KKS for details. Reproduction: very little data available. [SOURCE: KKS] 

O. ludovici

Ludovic's Glass Lizard

N Vietnam, S China

TL 14cm

See note in 2016 update. Scalation: 3 internasals; 2 pairs of prefrontals, without ; frontal almost as large anteriorly as posteriorly; triangular interparietal; occipital smaller than the dorsal scales following it; 5 suboculars, of which the 3 anterior ones border the frontal. Dorsal scalation: 16 longitudinal rows, of which the middle 8 are keeled. Ventral scalation: smooth, in 10 longitudinal rows, of which the scales of middle 4 are twice as wide as long. Other: no limbs; ear opening smaller than nostril. Coloration: sandy grey with small black spots above; ventrally uniform brown, darker on the sides, with angular extensions towards the dorsal area. [SOURCE: Mocquard]

O. mimicus

Mimic Glass Lizard

USA (Florida, coastal N Carolina to Georgia, S Mississippi)

22" (15-25¾")

Diurnal inhabitant of pine woods and flatwoods: Conant and Collins note that it is difficult to find. Scalation details: 1-2 supralabials extend upward to eye or sometimes separated from it by very small scales; 97 or fewer scales along lateral groove. Other: fracture planes present in caudal vertebrae. Coloration: dark brown or middorsal strip present, weak anteriorly but more distinct towards posterior and on tail; 3-4 dark stripes or rows of spots above the lateral groove, separated by pale stripes. [SOURCE: Conant & Collins]

O. sokolovi

South Vietnam Glass Lizard, Sokolov's Glass Snake 

S Vietnam

TL 7”/17½cm 

Only described in 1983, and still little known. Found in submontane forests. Scalation details: frontonasal equal to width of frontal; 88-92 lateral transverse rows. Other: body elongated; auricular opening three times as large as nostril. Coloration: dorsum brownish-beige; olive cross-bars; longitudinal row of instinct dark spots on forepart of dorsum; indistinct dark stripe runs from flanks on middle of body to tail, where it is dark brown; dark grey lower labial and ventral smudges; pupil black; iris golden-yellow. [SOURCE: Das 2010]

O. ventralis

Eastern Glass Lizard

USA (SE Louisiana, S Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, S Carolina, E N Carolina, Florida),
Cayman Islands (introduced)

36-40" (SVL 28cm; tail 51cm)

Scalation details: azygous prefrontal usually narrower than the greatest width of the frontal, usually separated from the latter by a pair of prefrontals; interparietal narrower than parietals, as broad as or narrower than occipital; 2 shields on a line from nasal to azygous prefrontal; head scales large to small and regular in position. Dorsal scalation: 118-124 transverse rows, 14-16 longitudinal rows. Ventral scalation: 10 longitudinal rows. Other: ear openings small; lateral teeth conical; teeth on the pterygoids in 3-5 longitudinal series, forming a broad band; 1-2 series on the palatines. Coloration: no dark middorsal stripe [Conant & Collins]

O. wegneri

Wegner's Glass Lizard

Indonesia (Sumatra)

TL 45cm

Found in montane forests. Scalation details: paired prefrontals separated from one another; narrow interparietal, only a little wider than a parietal, with small paired accessory plate between the outer edge of the frontal and 1st and 2nd supraoculars; 3 scales in line between nostril and unpaired prefrontal; frontonasal narrower than width of frontal; supraoculars 5; superciliaries 12; lateral dorsal scales 98. Other: ear opening large, larger than nostril. Coloration: dorsum uniform monochrome; pupil black; iris golden-yellow. [SOURCE: Das, Mertens (1958)].


Animal Life, Vol 5, Reptiles, Grzimek.

"Thoughts on a few Ophisaurs", R D Bartlett, Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 6:8. Useful introduction to the genus as a whole with some notes on sizes and natural history. Briefly mentions the Scheltopusik P. apodus. We acknowledge our debt to this article for many of the species listed here.

Ophisaurus ceroni”, Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles, J Alan Holman 1971, American Museum of Natural History.

"The First Record of Ophisaurus gracilis (Gray) (Sauria: Anguidae) in South Vietnam", Simon M Campden-Main, Herpetologica, Vol 26 No 1, March 1970.

“A New Species of the Genus Ophisaurus from Hainan Island”, Yang Rongsheng, Beijing Museum of Natural History, Acta Herpetologica Sinica, 1983. Mostly Chinese language with English abstract. Describes O. hainanensis.

"A New Lizard of the Genus Ophisaurus from Mexico", Edwin H McConkey, Natural History Miscellanea, Chicago Academy of Sciences, No. 145, March 31 1955.

"Eine Panzerschleiche (Ophisaurus) aus Sumatra", Robert Mertens, Senckenbergiana biologica 40:1/2, Frankfurt am Main, 1 April 1959. Describes O. wegneri.

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