Added 19 December 2002. Last updated 28 February 2016: updated Ophisaurus (Glass Lizards) entry.

A Brief Look
at the



Although the Anguidae as a family are not particularly well known (at least in the same way that for example geckos or monitors are easily recognisable as a family), many Europeans will be familiar with the slowworm, Anguis fragilis, or the much bigger Scheltopusik, Pseudopus apodus (formerly Ophisaurus apodus). Likewise many North Americans will know the various glass lizards, Ophisaurus sp. and the alligator lizards (Elgaria), and inhabitants of the Caribbea and Central America the many Celestus, Diploglossus and Abronia species.

The distribution of the Anguidae is interesting as it encompasses both Old and New Worlds, being entirely absent only from Australia. The subfamily Anguinae, containing the better-known legless forms, has fewest species but the widest range, being found across all of Europe (including its harshest regions) and Asia, with a foothold in North Africa. Subfamily Diploglossae is found across Central America and some parts of the Caribbean and reaches as far south as Argentina, whilst subfamily Gerrhonotinae is more northerly distributed, from Central America as far as Canada.

In form the different species most closely resemble the skinks, with varying degrees of reduced or absent limbs. Many if not most are terrestrial, living in leaf litter and similar detritus on woodland or forest floors. Some species are ovoviviparous, this being particularly useful in Anguis fragilis as a protection for the developing young against the cold and damp North European climate.

Subfamily Anguinae:



Anguis, Slowworms

Ophisaurus, Glass Lizards

Pseudopus, Scheltopusik

Subfamily Diploglossae:






Subfamily Gerrhonotinae:










Common Name

No. of species



Subfamily Anguinae




All of Europe, Asia Minor, Caucasus, N Iran, Algeria and Tunisia



Glass Lizards


N America, SE Asia, Taiwan, China, India, N Africa

More recently the genus has been split by some authorities into New World and Old World species.




SE & E Europe, inc. S Russia and S Ukraine: Middle East, Caucasus

Large (up to 4') and widely distributed species once attributed to Ophisaurus. Makes a hardy, long-lived and interesting terrarium subject.

Subfamily Diploglossae




Hispaniola, Antilles, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, also Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize

Sheathing scale at end of each digit is small or absent: claw is exposed [Walls]. 




Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Cuba, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador

Fingers and toes end in large scales that form a sheath over the claw, which is seldom fully exposed [Walls]. 




Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay


Subfamily Gerrhonotinae




Mainly Guatemala and Mexico, also Belize, El Salvador and Honduras










W Panama, E Costa Rica

Former Gerrhonotus species




Canada, USA, Mexico

Made up of former Gerrhonotus species




USA, Mexico, Guatemala

Formerly much larger genus




Mainly Mexico, also Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua


Bibliography - Anguidae

There seems to be no one single work (at least outside academic circles) dealing with the family Anguidae in its entirety. This may partly be due to the divided nature of the family (part Old World, part New): all European field guides, for example, have details of the slowworm and the scheltopusik, while West Indian field guides doubtlessly carry details of the Celestus species. The other factor is that these lizards have been somewhat neglected of late in herpetoculture, although some make good and hardy pets. This may be partly due to ever-increasing restrictions on the capture or import of wild specimens (even the formerly commonplace Alligator Lizard, Elgaria (formerly Gerrhonotus) sp., is now much harder to obtain), but also, one suspects, because of a misplaced view that anguids are less interesting than the more "exotic" lizards.

Index of anguid-related articles from herpetological magazines.

Echsen [Lizards] Vol 2, Rogner, Ullmer Verlag, 1992. Usually a very good source of information, although it has been pointed out to me by one source in at least one section there was a "theoretical" guess as to the captive requirements of a particular species that is in reality very hard to keep alive. Nevertheless Rogner seems to offer quite useful advice on the more commonly kept anguids, such as some of the Galliwasps, the Scheltopusik, Slowworm, Alligator Lizards and Glass Lizards. This book (and Vol 1) are available in English translation, but are substantially more expensive than most reptile husbandry books available from English-language publishing houses.

"The Mysterious Galliwasps", Jerry G Walls, Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 7:2 (October 2001). Useful and informative article on the Subfamily Diploglossae, giving details of the taxonomic confusion and also of some of the individual species. There are also suggestions on finding out a suitable terrarium setup for a captive diploglossid whose origins are uncertain (trial and error, basically) and a useful key on distinguishing diploglossids from similar-looking New World skinks.


So far we have not been able to find any links to sites dedicated to or dealing with the Anguidae as such. If anyone knows of any we would be glad to hear from them.

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