|Eastern glass lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis)|
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The glass lizards or glass snakes are a genus, Ophisaurus (from the Greek 'snake-lizard'), of reptiles that resemble snakes, but are actually lizards. Although most species have no legs, their head shapes, movable eyelids, and external ear openings identify them as lizards. A few species have very small, stub-like legs near their rear vents. These are vestigial organs, meaning they have evolved and are no longer in use. These animals are also known as jointed snakes. They reach lengths of up to 4 ft (1.2 m), but about two-thirds of this is the tail. Glass lizards feed on insects, spiders, other small reptiles, and young rodents. Their diets are limited by their inability to unhinge their jaws. Some glass lizards give birth to live young but most lay eggs.
They are so-named because their tails are easily broken; like many lizards, they have the ability to deter predation by dropping off part of the tail, which can break into several pieces, like glass. The tail remains mobile, distracting the predator, while the lizard becomes motionless, allowing eventual escape. This serious loss of body mass requires a considerable effort to replace, and can take years to do so. Despite this ability, the new tail is usually smaller in size than the original.
The greatest number of species in the genus are native to Asia, from India to China and the Indonesian islands. At least one species, the Moroccan glass lizard, comes from North Africa, and several species live in the Southeastern United States including the barrier islands off the Atlantic Coast of Florida. They are also found in abundant numbers in eastern North Carolina as far as 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
Their diets consist primarily of arthropods, with larger animals eating snails and small mammals.
The genus Ophisaurus (sensu lato) contains the following species:
- Ophisaurus apodus – scheltopusik
- Ophisaurus attenuatus – slender glass lizard
- Ophisaurus buettikoferi – Borneo glass lizard
- Ophisaurus ceroni – Ceron's glass lizard
- Ophisaurus compressus – island glass lizard
- Ophisaurus formosensis – Formosan glass lizard
- Ophisaurus gracilis – Burmese glass lizard
- Ophisaurus hainanensis
- Ophisaurus harti – Chinese glass lizard or mud dragon
- Ophisaurus incomptus
- Ophisaurus koellikeri – Moroccan glass lizard
- Ophisaurus mimicus – mimic glass lizard
- Ophisaurus sokolovi – pink lizard
- Ophisaurus ventralis – eastern glass lizard
- Ophisaurus wegneri – Sumatra glass lizard
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