Bronzeback snake-lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus)

Bronzeback snake-lizard
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Bronzeback snake-lizard fact file

Bronzeback snake-lizard description

GenusOphidiocephalus (1)

Originally discovered in the 1890s, the secretive bronzeback snake-lizard went unrecorded for over 80 years, until the finding of further specimens in 1977 (2). This distinctive legless lizard is named for the striking, uniform bronze or fawn-coloured uppersurface of the body and tail (3). By contrast, the head is pale grey, while a broad dark brown band runs along the sides from the snout to the tip of the tail (4). The underbelly is greyish-brown, with a margin of white-bordered dark scales between the belly and the sides of the body. The rounded, wedge-shaped snout and long, thin body and tail of this species are excellent adaptations for burrowing under soil or leaf litter (2) (3). When handled, the bronzeback snake-lizard produces a high-pitched squeak and will readily shed its tail in response to threats; hence, many wild individuals are tailless (2) (4).

Length: 27 cm (2)
5.5 g (2)

Bronzeback snake-lizard biology

Generally active at dusk, dawn and throughout the night, the bronzeback snake-lizard, moves swiftly through leaf litter in search of invertebrate prey, which includes termites, cockroach nymphs, beetle and moth larvae, and spiders (3). Prey is gripped in the jaws, and torn into pieces by using a vigorous rolling motion, similar to a crocodile “death-roll” (2). This species spends almost its entire life underground, only making rare emergences at the surface when its habitat is disturbed or when dispersing to new areas (2).

Little is known about the reproductive biology of the bronzeback snake-lizard. Mating is believed to occur around early spring, with two eggs laid well before January (3) (4). After birth, the juveniles may actively disperse from preferred areas of deep-leaf litter, where relatively large numbers of individuals may occur, to less favourable habitats with shallower substrate (4).


Bronzeback snake-lizard range

Endemic to Australia, the bronzeback snake-lizard was originally recorded in both the Northern Territory and South Australia (5). Following its rediscovery in 1977 (2), this species could only be located in South Australia (4). However, recent surveys, conducted in 2008, have confirmed that populations do still persist in the southern Northern Territory (6).


Bronzeback snake-lizard habitat

A burrowing species, the bronzeback snake-lizard requires habitats with deep, matted leaf-litter, usually found where trees and shrubs grow along the margins of temporary watercourses (2) (3) (4). The underlying soil must have adequate drainage, and is usually sandy loam, with a layer of cracking clay or coarse, water-deposited sand underneath (2) (4). Some movement into less-favourable habitats has also been exhibited, with individuals recorded on open-rocky plains or in leaf-litter which is a good distance away from watercourses, presumably as a result of attempted dispersal to new areas (2) (3).


Bronzeback snake-lizard status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Bronzeback snake-lizard threats

Due to the restricted and unstable nature of the bronzeback snake-lizards’ habitat, it is vulnerable to natural events such as flooding; hence its population continually undergoes cycles of population booms and busts (2) (4). Unfortunately, the effects of human-related activities are compounding such natural threats and are increasingly presenting a threat to this species’ survival (4) (5). Overgrazing and trampling by cattle along watercourses, grazing by rabbits, soil compaction and erosion, and a loss of leaf-litter are all degrading and destroying areas of suitable habitat (2). In addition, the large numbers of abandoned, open opal-mines found in some parts of this species’ range are resulting in local declines due to individuals falling into the deep shafts and perishing (4).


Bronzeback snake-lizard conservation

The bronzeback snake-lizard is known from at least one protected area, the Breakaways Reserve in northern South Australia, and given the presence of suitable habitat in the Witjira National Park, also in northern South Australia, it may also occur there as well (4). More research is needed to establish the extent of this species’ range and population status. In addition, conservation initiatives to manage areas of land where this species occurs, minimising negative impacts such as grazing and raising awareness of its plight, would be beneficial (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Animals with no backbone.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
  2. Ehmann, H. and Watson, M. (2007) Fact Sheet: Bronzeback Legless Lizard Ophidiocephalus taeniatus. Government of South Australia: South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board, Port Augusta. Available at:
  3. Pavey, C. (2006) Threatened Species of the Northern Territory: Bronzeback Snake-Lizard Ophidiocephalus taeniatus. Northern Territory Government – Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Palmerston. Available at:
  4. The Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (October, 2009)
  5. Threatened Species Scientific Committee. (2008) Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Ophidiocephalus taeniatus (Bronzeback Snake-lizard). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. Available at:
  6. McDonald, P. and Fyfe, G. (2008) A Survey for the Bronzeback Snake-lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus), New Crown and Umbeara Pastoral Leases, Northern Territory. Northern Territory Government – Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, Palmerston. Available at:

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Bronzeback snake-lizard  
Bronzeback snake-lizard

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