The snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans) is a small, slender lizard with a slightly flattened head and a narrow, pointed snout (3) (5). Its tail is long, making up about two-thirds of the lizard’s total length (4), and the scales along the back have a rough ridge down the middle (3) (4) (5) (6).
A characteristic feature of the snake-eyed lizard, as with other Ophisops species, is a lack of separate eyelids. Instead, the eye is covered by a transparent ‘spectacle’ like that of snakes, giving rise to this species’ common name (4) (6). The eye cannot be closed, but the spectacle may sometimes be pulled briefly downwards to clean off dust and dirt. A combination of large eyes with overhanging ridges gives the snake-eyed lizard something of a ‘staring’ expression (4).
The body of the snake-eyed lizard is generally olive-brown with two lighter, greenish stripes running along its length. The stripes are bordered by dark brown or black spots or blotches, giving a marbled effect (3) (4) (5). The underparts of the snake-eyed lizard are usually pale whitish or yellowish, without dark marks (3) (4), and the tail is often reddish (4).
The differences between the male and female snake-eyed lizard are minimal (3), but juveniles may be stripier than the adults (5). A number of subspecies of snake-eyed lizard are usually recognised (1) (6).
- Also known as
- Blanfords snake-eyed lizard, elegant snake-eyed lizard, Schlueter's snake-eyed lizard, snake-eyed lacertid.
- Amystes ehrenbergi, Gymnops meizolepis, Ohisops elegans, Ophiops elegans, Ophisops blanfordi.
- Total length: up to 15 cm (2)
- Snout-vent length: up to 5.5 cm (3) (4)
- 1.7 - 3.6 g (3)
Snake-eyed lizard biology
The snake-eyed lizard is an opportunistic feeder which eats any prey in its environment which it has the physical ability to consume (10). This species actively searches for suitable prey (3), which generally includes insects and other arthropods (2) (3) (10). Spiders and insect larvae are particularly important food sources for the snake-eyed lizard (3) (10).
This species is usually seen during the day (8). Although not especially quick, the snake-eyed lizard may dash from plant to plant when pursued, and often takes refuge in vegetation, crevices in the ground or under stones. At night, it may bury itself in soft soil or sand beneath cover (4). A fascinating feature of the snake-eyed lizard, as in many other similar species, is its ability to shed its tail in response to a predator attack. The tail is then able to regenerate (11).
The average clutch size of the snake-eyed lizard is around three eggs (3), but clutches may vary from one to six (4). The young snake-eyed lizards measure about five centimetres in total length (4), and are thought to reach sexual maturity in their first year of life (3) (4). This species is believed to have a relatively short lifespan (4).
Snake-eyed lizard range
The snake-eyed lizard has a widespread range, stretching from Bulgaria and northern Greece, through Turkey and the Middle East to countries such as Israel, Iraq and Iran, and into northern Africa, where it can be found in Egypt, Libya and Algeria (1) (4) (6). Its range extends as far east as Pakistan and northwest India (1) (6).
Species with a similar range
Snake-eyed lizard habitat
A ground-dwelling species (2) (3) (4), the snake-eyed lizard is typically found in open and arid plains, cultivated fields and stony hillsides, in areas with sparse vegetation or low shrubs (4). It is also able to survive on almost bare ground (4), and uses rocks and bare ground to regulate its body temperature (3). This species appears to be well adapted to withstand hot environments (7).
In addition to these open, arid habitats, the snake-eyed lizard has also been commonly found inhabiting areas of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and open evergreen and deciduous oak forest (3) (8). It has been recorded at elevations of up to 2,000 metres (9).
Species found in a similar habitat
Snake-eyed lizard status
The snake-eyed lizard has yet to be classified by the IUCN.
Snake-eyed lizard threats
There are no known major threats to the snake-eyed lizard, and in the Mediterranean region this species has been classified as Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria (12).
However, the snake-eyed lizard may face localised threats in some areas. In the El-Quseima region of Egypt, habitat degradation may result in population declines if it continues. The snake-eyed lizard is relatively uncommon in Egypt, and is vulnerable due to its limited range in North Sinai (5).
Snake-eyed lizard conservation
The snake-eyed lizard is protected in Europe under Appendix II of the Bern Convention, which aims to conserve wild species and their habitats (13). It may also occur in some protected areas, such as the Dibeen Nature Reserve in Jordan (8).
There are not known to be any other specific conservation measures in place for this small reptile. Overall, its populations are believed to be stable and do not currently require special protection measures (6).
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- A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
- A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
- A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
- Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- 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.
The Reptile Database (February, 2011)
Wild Lebanon - Snake-eyed lizard (February, 2011)
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Arnold, N. and Ovenden, D. (2002) Collins Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
Ananjeva, N.B., Orlov, N.L., Khalikov, R.G., Darevsky, I.S., Ryabov, S.A. and Barabanov, A.V. (2006) The Reptiles of Northern Eurasia. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Foufopoulos, J. (1997) The reptile fauna of the Northern Dodecanese (Aegean Islands, Greece). Herpetozoa, 10(1/2): 3-12.
Damhoureyeh, S.A., Qarqaz, M.A., Baker, M.A., Himdan, N., Eid, E. and Amr, Z.S. (2009) Reptiles and amphibians in Dibbeen Nature Reserve, Jordan. Vertebrate Zoology, 59(2): 169-177.
Baran, I. and Atatür, M.K. (1998) Turkish Herpetofauna (Amphibians and Reptiles). Republic of Turkey Ministry of Environment, Ankara.
Akkaya, A. and Uğurtaş, I.H. (2006) The feeding biology of Ophisops elegans Menetries, 1832 (Reptilia: Lacertidae) populations of the Bursa Region. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 30: 357-360.
Pafilis, P., Foufopoulos, J., Poulakakis, N., Lymberakis, P. and Valakos, E.D. (2009) Tail shedding in island lizards [Lacertidae, Reptilia]: decline of antipredator defenses in relaxed predation environments. Evolution, 63(5): 1262-1278.
Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (February, 2011)