Slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)

Slender glass lizard
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • This species gains its common name from its fragile tail, which fractures in several places when it is caught by a predator.
  • The slender glass lizard may look like a snake, but it has the eyelids and external ear openings which snakes lack.
  • The regenerated tail of the slender glass lizard is solid brown and much shorter than the original.
  • Strangely for a reptile, the female slender glass lizard remains with the eggs throughout the incubation period.
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Slender glass lizard fact file

Slender glass lizard description

GenusOphisaurus (1)

The slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus) is a legless, snake-like lizard (3) (4), which gains its common name from its highly fragile tail (4). When the lizard is captured by a predator, it shatters its tail into several pieces and detaches it from the rest of the body, allowing it to escape. The tail can be regenerated, although it is plain brown and much shorter than the original tail (3) (4) (5).

The long, slender body of the slender glass lizard is brown, bronze, tan or pale yellow, and there is a dark brown longitudinal line which runs down the middle of the back onto the tail (5). There is a wide, dark brown groove along each side of the body and tail, which has one or two dark, narrow lines beneath it (3) (5). The underside of the lizard is light yellow and usually lacks patterning (5), although it may be marked with dark brown stripes in some individuals (3).

The male slender glass lizard is larger than the female, but their appearance is mostly very similar. The juvenile is similar in appearance to the adult, although the stripe along the back is more distinctive (3).

There are two recognised subspecies of slender glass lizard: Ophisaurus attenuatus attenuatus and Ophisaurus attenuatus longicaudus (1) (6). These two subspecies are also known as the western slender glass lizard and the eastern slender glass lizard, respectively (2).

Length: 56 - 106.7 cm (2)

Slender glass lizard biology

The diet of the carnivorous slender glass lizard is mainly composed of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and beetles (3) (4) (5) (6), although the lizard may also take small mice, spiders, reptile and bird eggs and snails (3) (5) (6). Additionally, the female may also eat its own eggs while incubating them (3). This species hunts primarily by smell and possesses an organ in its nose known as ‘Jacobson’s Organ’, which improves the lizard’s sense of smell and helps it to detect prey more easily (5).

The male slender glass lizard actively searches for females throughout the breeding season, which usually runs between May and early July (5). Breeding bi-annually (6) in June or July, the female slender glass lizard lays an average clutch of between 7 and 16 eggs (4) (5) in a subterranean burrow (3) (6). The female remains in close proximity to the eggs and rotates them to discourage fungal growth and maintain favourable environmental conditions (5). The eggs hatch after an incubation period of between 50 and 60 days. Sexual maturity is attained at around two or three years old (5) (6).

A primarily subterranean species, the slender glass lizard occupies several different burrows within its home range. The size of the home range is highly variable and is dependent on the sex and age of the individual, with the female and juvenile usually occupying a smaller area than the male. Most above-ground activity occurs from April to September when temperatures are between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius. The slender glass lizard begins to spend more time underground by mid- to late September in preparation for overwintering. When basking during warm weather, this species prefers to receive sunlight which has been filtered through tall grass or vegetation, rather than direct light (5).


Slender glass lizard range


Slender glass lizard habitat

The slender glass lizard inhabits dry, open woodland, grasslands, prairies and roadsides (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). This species requires areas with sandy, loose soil where it is able to build burrows itself, or occupy burrows which have been made by other animals (3) (5).


Slender glass lizard status

The slender glass lizard is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Slender glass lizard threats

Habitat loss and fragmentation are major threats to the slender glass lizard, as much land within its range has been converted for agriculture and urbanisation (1) (5) (6). Invasive species such as spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) are also damaging its habitat and can have negative ecological impacts, such as changing the vegetation structure and subsequently reduces the amount of available prey for the lizard (5). Collisions with vehicles is also a major threat to this species, with a large amount of mortalities and injuries occurring due to its habitat being in close proximity to highways (4).


Slender glass lizard conservation

The slender glass lizard is considered to be endangered or vulnerable in some states in the United States (5) (6), and occurs in many protected areas throughout its range (1).


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Feeding on flesh.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Home range
The area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
An extensive area of flat or rolling, predominantly treeless grassland, especially the large tract or plain of central North America.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Living underground, in caves or groundwater.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2013)
  2. Conant, R. and Collins, J.T. (1998) Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  3. Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service (November, 2013)
  4. Trauth, S.E., Robison, H.W. and Plummer, M.V. (2004) The Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Arkansas.
  5. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2013) Wisconsin Slender Glass Lizard Species Guidance. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin. Available at:
  6. MobileReference (2008) Encyclopedia of North American Reptiles and Amphibians. MobileReference, Boston.

Image credit

Slender glass lizard  
Slender glass lizard

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