Latin Name: Pseudopus apodus Order: Squamata Family: Anguidae
The scientific name means “fake-legged no-leg”. The Slavic name for sheltopusik means “yellow belly”. They were previously included in the genus Ophisaurus, but have been placed in its own genus.
The scheltopusik is often overlooked as a snake, but is a great transition species for people afraid of snakes. Their sandy brown coloration and diamond shaped scales are excellent camouflage. They can be hissy and roll in hand, but can also mellow out and relax in hand. Like other reptiles, it needs a specific heat gradient and UVB.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Scheltopusik (also known as glass and legless lizards) live in southern Asia and southeastern Europe. They prefer drier habitats and open country such as short grassland or sparsely wooded hills, but are particularly active in wet weather. They can be found in piles of dead leaves and decaying matter, short grass near ponds and springs, and beneath logs and boards.
Average life span in about 20 years, but the record is 50.
Reaching lengths of 53 inches (135cm), they can swim and climb trees if necessary but prefer to stay underground to eat snails and arthropods.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Provide multiple hiding spaces via hide box, hollow logs, etc as having a place to hide helps them feel secure.
- Nocturnal. However in human care they are often diurnal.
- Females reach sexual maturity between 2-3 years. Breeding season varies depending on the region they live in. Males will search for females and fight other males for breeding rights. The males leave after mating and play no further role.
- 6-10 eggs are laid about 10 weeks after mating. The eggs are an inch in length and are hidden under bark or stones and guarded by the female. After 45-55 days, the young hatch and are about 6 inches long.
- After hatching, babies are on their own.
- Requires an enclosure length of 3 feet minimum, although 4 feet is preferred.
- Low branches for climbing can be provided as the lizard will utilize them. Be sure branches are secure and the weight of the lizard won’t cause them to topple.
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Temperature: Should have a basking temperature in the high 80sF
- Humidity: Humidity gradients provide animal choices of where it wants to hang out. Need humidity when they shed, but usually shed within 24 hours.
- Light: They are diurnal and require UVB lighting, full spectrum bulbs.
Since they are fossorial, they should have several inches of burrowable substrate. This could include bark mulch, potting soil/sand mix, leaf litter or other. If kept on newspaper, provide hiding places, shredded paper, or similar to help them feel secure.
- Note: Cypress mulch is not recommended for use due to unsustainable logging practices.
Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
Diet in the Wild
- In the wild, they eat soft bodied invertebrates like slugs, worms, and snails. They can also take small birds, lizards, snakes, mammals, and large insects.
- Small cone shaped teeth help with eating arthropod exoskeletons and snails.
Diet under human care
- In captivity, they are offered pinky mice, mealworms, nightcrawlers, crickets, and catfood. These items are spaced out during the course of the week. They are not necessarily fed every day.
- Wild caught specimens may carry parasites
- If along a mesh sided enclosure, they will rub their nose open.
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- Providing variations in substrate and temperature gradients. Moving to other habitats during the day can provide that variability.
- Live feed or time release feeders pace out prey items.
- Has a minimum of 3 opportunities for foraging enrichment and exercise per week at Zoo Atlanta.
Other Enrichment Resources
- Will target for diet items which can be utilized for kenneling.
Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement
Social Housing/Colony Management
- They are housed singly.
- Females lay 8-17 eggs in early June. She will brood them for 56-61 days until they hatch.
- Average lifespan is 20 years.
- They are mainly housed singly making it easy to identify individuals.
- Comparison of snakes and lizards (ears, moveable eyelids, ventral scales)
- Evolution with comparison of legless lizards hipbone remnants to human tail bones.
- Pet trade: Sheltepusic have special care needs. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade reduces wild populations. Also, the release of exotic species devastates local ecosystems.
Threats and Conservation Status
- Humans are a major threat due to fear of snakes and habitat loss due to agricultural development. They are harmless and beneficial to have around.
- IUCN- Least Concern
Interesting Natural History Information
- A lateral groove (a fold of skin down each side) along their body aids in expansion when eating, breathing, and pregnancy.
- To defend themselves they will twist, hiss, lunge, or bite. Legless lizards are nicknamed glass lizards because as a last resort if caught or injured, the tail can break off allowing escape. The tail regrows poorly and is shorter and darker. The scheltopusik is not known to do this unlike other relatives.
Did you know…
- In Raiders of the Lost Ark snake scene, Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) says “I hate snakes” when many of the reptiles were actually legless lizards.
- There are at least 10 species of glass lizards, including several that live in the US.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Temperament varies widely among individuals. Frequent short handling sessions can help calm a nervous animal.
- When picking up the lizard, support as much of the body and tail as possible. Two hands should be used at all times, ideally with one hand just behind the ears. The other hand should be just past the vent, under the start of the tail. The tail may hang down to properly support the body. Do not hold the lizard by its tail.
- Prefers to be level or parallel to ground when being handled.
- Doesn’t like being restrained. Instead prefers to traverse through the hands in a forward motion, but could also roll in the hand.
- The legless lizard is taken off programs and allowed to shed. However, occasionally some individuals will use hands to assist in removing shed from their bodies by rubbing affected areas while in hand.
Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines
- Animals are permitted to be touched with two fingers on the back by one person at a time.
- Hand sanitizer is distributed to everyone who touches the animal. The public is advised to also wash hands with soap and water. The CDC guidelines are stated for visitors touching reptiles that are under 5 years of age due to the potential of all reptiles to be carriers of salmonella.
- Animals are presented at shows, education programs, informal animal encounters, and special events.
- Legless lizards are transported in 48 quart hard sided coolers.
- Some facilities will utilize a portable hand warmer or rice sock to keep temperatures elevated in the travel enclosure.
- A layer of newspaper is placed on the bottom to aid in traction and clean up. Astroturf mats or carpet squares can also be used.
- Cooler is secured with a bungee to prevent them from popping open the lid while in transit.
- Zoo Atlanta: The scheltopusik can be utilized for programs between 60-90F. They can be utilized for 30minutes animal encounters with a 30 minute rest period between with up to three encounters per trip.
- If temperatures are below the minimum temperature, transport vehicles should be warmed up prior to packing animals.
Currently this species is difficult to acquire within AZA and has only been available through the private sector. Occasionally AZA facilities breed this species.
Look for specialty/exotic rescues such as:
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links)
Contributors and Citations
- Zoo Atlanta
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
- Reptiles Magazine