The burton’s legless lizard is often thought to be a snake at first glance but is more closely related to geckoes. One of their most notable features is the pointed snout.
Like a snake these animals lack limbs though a small flap remains where the hind limbs formerly were.
Their color is highly variable owing to their wide range with variation even present within sub-populations. They may have cream, yellow, brown or grey across the upper body. On the underside they tend to be lighter in color.
This highly variable coloration is thought to be useful based on the different habitats which they inhabit.
In many populations they exhibit a stripe running along the sides of the body which is lighter in color.
The eye features a vertical pupil. They do not have an eyelid.
Unlike snakes the burton’s legless lizard has a visible ear-hole.
Their tongue is broad, flat and fleshy compared to the forked tongue of a snake.
On average their snout to vent length is 30cm (11.4in) long though their potential total length is up to 102cm (40in) long. Females tend to grow larger than males.
Burton’s legless lizard is a carnivore. Their diet is mostly composed of other lizards with skinks being their main target. They may also eat some invertebrates.
Their skull features a special hinge which helps the flexible jaw to dislocate and wrap around their food.
Prey is captured around the chest and squeezed until it is suffocated. They then swallow the prey head first.
These animals are sit and wait predators. They lie motionless and wait for food to approach before striking at it.
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Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are the native homes of Burton’s legless lizard. They can also be found on the Torres Strait Islands and the Aru Islands.
In Australia they are considered the continent’s most widespread reptile only avoiding the most southerly areas of the country and Tasmania.
Their wide range is possible due to the vast number of habitats in which they can survive. These may include deserts, sclerophyll forests, rainforests, beaches and woodlands. Occasionally they will be found in backyards.
These animals will hide under fallen logs.
Breeding takes place in September with the eggs being laid in summer across most of their range.
They will deposit between 1 and 3 eggs under a log, rock, on the ground or in a sugar ant’s nest. In some areas they will nest communally with up to 20 eggs being recorded in a single nest.
They are primarily active by day but will also be seen on warm nights. Much of their activity takes place at dusk and dawn.
As they lack eyelids they instead lick their eyes to remove any dust.
To move around they use a snake like motion due to the lack of legs.
Predators and Threats
When threatened by a predator the Burton’s legless lizard can exhibit ‘tail autonomy.’ This means they are able to drop their tail so that they can escape. The tail will regrow if it has dropped.
They will also hiss and rear up when threatened. Another way to avoid threats is their camouflage.
No major threat are faced by this species. Small numbers in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are collected for the pet trade.
These animal’s are also known as Burton’s snake lizard.
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Matt Clancy Wildlife Photography, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
JennyKS, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Smacdonald, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons
South East Reptile Relocations – Gold Coast Snake Catcher. 2021. Burtons Legless Lizard – South East Snake Catcher Gold Coast. [online] Available at: <https://southeastsnakecatcher.com.au/burtons-legless-lizard/> [Accessed 6 April 2021].
Museums Victoria Sciences Staff (2017) Lialis burtonis Burton’s Snake-lizard in Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/species/8391 [Accessed 06 April 2021]
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Qm.qld.gov.au. 2021. Legless lizards – Queensland Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Explore/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Reptiles/Legless+lizards> [Accessed 6 April 2021].
Australian Geographic. 2021. Australia’s legless geckoes – Australian Geographic. [online] Available at: <https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2017/09/australias-legless-geckoes/> [Accessed 6 April 2021].
Ryan, V. and Ryan, C., 2021. Girraween National Park – Animals – Reptiles – Lizards – Snake Lizards – Burton’s Legless Lizard. [online] Rymich.com. Available at: <http://www.rymich.com/girraween/index.php?section=animals&sub=reptiles&d1=lizards&d2=legless&d3=lialis_burtonis&page=gi_lialis_burtonis> [Accessed 6 April 2021].
Oliver, P., Parker, F., Tallowin, O., O’Shea, M., Ellis, R. & Shea, G. 2017. Lialis burtonis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T42483075A42483082. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T42483075A42483082.en. Downloaded on 06 April 2021.
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