Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Legless Lizard vs Snake (10 Differences)

Most of us see a legless reptile slithering about and our first thought is a snake. But this is not always the case. It could be a legless lizard.

So in this article we’ll compare the legless lizard vs snake, but first we’ll learn a bit more about them. Snakes and legless lizards are different animals and come from different genealogical lines.

The legless lizard is part of the suborder Anguidae, while snakes are part of the suborder Serpentes. Legless lizards evolved from lizards with legs which most of us have seen at one time or another, from desserts to pet shops. Snakes, on the other hand, evolved from snakes that had legs, which no one today has seen except perhaps in illustrations.

Many lizards evolved into legless because they simply had no need for legs. In fact, it was easier for them to ” swim” through dirt to burrow without legs. It likely began with a short-legged lizard who reproduced and handed down that gene, which mutated over time so the lizard could adapt.

Still, this process of evolutionary improvement that makes them look like snakes, does not make them snakes. There are many differences between legless lizards and snakes.

Legless Lizard vs Snake

This article will explore 10 differences between the two species and how to tell them apart. Enjoy the facts and photos!

1. Ears

One major difference between legless lizards and snakes is their ears. Legless lizards have an ear hole on each side of their head. These holes allow them to hear sounds like other animals with ears.

Snakes do not have ears or any openings through which to hear. Snakes “hear” by feeling vibrations through their jawbones. If you’ve ever felt a loud boom or played music so loud you felt it, you know how the snake hears.

2. Eyes

Legless lizard
Legless lizard | Image by Martin Hetto from Pixabay

If trying to tell if a legless reptile is a lizard or snake, look at their eyes. Legless lizards have eye lids and blink. Snakes have no eye lids and do not blink. Rather, they have a clear scale (called a spectacle), covering their eyeballs for protection.

3. Jaws/Eating Habits

Another key difference between these two reptiles is their jaws. Snakes have certain muscles and more joints than legless lizards. This allows them to unhinge their jaw so they can capture larger prey like mice and rabbits and swallow them whole.

Legless lizards cannot open their mouths as wide as snakes, so they stick to insects. Snakes will also tend to eat larger meals infrequently, while legless lizards eat smaller meals throughout each day.

4. Size

Eastern rat snake
Eastern rat snake | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The size difference between the 2 species is rather notable. Overall, snakes are much larger than the legless lizard. The lizard (depending on species) will average 2 to 3 feet and will weigh between 10 to 21 ounces. Snakes, on the other hand, can range in size from 2 to 12 feet and weigh hundreds of pounds.

5. Range of motion

While snakes can slither easily through life, the legless lizard is not as fortunate. Snakes have unique belly scales that help propel them over obstacles and flat surfaces. Legless lizards do not have these underside scales, so they can only move side to side.

You may also like:  How to Remove a Bearded Dragon Nose Plug

It’s not a problem until they come across a flat smooth surface. Then it will take them a pretty long time to get where they’re going.

The absence of these scales poses a danger to the lizard in populated areas. They often fall victim to motor vehicles due to their inability to slither quickly across the road.

6. Tail Shedding

Northern legless lizard on sand
Northern legless lizard on sand | image by gilaman via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The legless lizard has the ability to detach its tail where the snake does not. When threatened, the lizard will shed its tail. The tail will continue to move and flop about.

This is to distract predators so the lizard can get away. The tail will regenerate but it can take several months to a year to complete. During this time, the legless lizard will be especially vulnerable.

Also, snakes have a short tail. Legless lizards are mostly tails. In fact, 2/3 of its slender body is a tail!

7. Internal Organs

Eastern Milksnake
Eastern Milksnake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Legless lizards have a groove on each side of their body. These groves help them expand and contract as they eat, breathe, and reproduce. Therefore, they have the usual number of internal organs as well as the usual placement.

Snakes do not have these ridges and have had to adapt. Instead of double organs, like the kidneys, being side by side, they are placed one in front of the other. Snakes also have only one lung.

8. Reproduction

Depending on the species, both lizards and snakes can lay eggs or give birth to live young. However, legless lizards lay eggs 50% of the time, while with snakes it’s 70%.

9. Venom

Some snakes are venomous while others are not. There is no known species of a legless lizard that is venomous.

10. Legs

Some legless lizards do have small remnants of legs. However, the legs do not do anything and are of no use to the lizards. Some snakes, like the Boa constrictor, have tiny protrusions at their rear.

These are not legs, but spurs. They allow the male to hold onto a female during reproduction.

Wildlife Informer

About Wildlife Informer

WildlifeInformer.com is your #1 source for free information about all types of wildlife and exotic pets. We also share helpful tips and guides on a variety of topics related to animals and nature.