It’s NOT a Worm, It’s NOT a Snake, It’s a… Lizard?

Nope. Your eyes are not deceiving you. There are hundreds, thousands of strange creatures on our planet, and some of them include lizards that have no legs; or at least functioning legs. Legless lizards were once believed to belong to one species, but scientists have been able to identify more than one hundred different species around the world.

Also known as the glass lizard, these superficial reptiles are often mistaken for snakes, but can easily be distinguished from each other. Lizards have external ear openings and moveable eyelids, whereas snakes do not. These lizards take advantage of this mimicry and have even been seen curling up like a snake, which wards off potential predators. Another difference between a snake and a legless lizard is the shape of the tongue. Snakes are known for their forked tongues, which legless lizards do not have, but instead have rounded tongues.

So why are they legless? The lizards live underground and have adapted over the years to burrow better and faster without legs. This means that generation after generation, the animals’ legs developed to be shorter until they eventually disappeared. While they lack functioning legs compared to their limbed lizard counterparts, legless lizards do have vestigial legs, which measure around 2mm long and have no function. (Fun fact: some snakes, like pythons, also have vestigial limbs, which aid in mating!)

The Virginia Zoo is currently home to two legless lizards, who both live behind-the-scenes as Program Animal Ambassadors. Kirk and Picard have been at the Zoo since December 2015, and were estimated to be under two years old upon arrival. They are fed a diet of crickets, dubia roaches, superworms, and their favorite – nightcrawlers. When they are not feasting on their favorite foods, Kirk and Picard are often found burrowing and hiding into their moistened substrate, the ideal enrichment for the duo.

When it comes to personalities, Kirk and Picard are the exact opposites. Keepers say Kirk tends to be more reserved and shy, and can spook easily. Picard is outgoing and curious and will often investigate new enrichment. When being handled by Keepers for education programs, Picard is more calm while Kirk is spooked more easily and often does a barrel roll, which is a defense mechanism for the species. When this happens, Keepers are aware the animal(s) may be uncomfortable, and will put them back into their habitat for a break.