The Eastern Glass Lizard
Not long ago my garden club board of directors met at my house. As soon as the meeting was over, the group exited the house and entered the garden as we always do when the business of the day is finished. We find that peoples' gardens are as unique and varied as the people are.
The board members were filing out into the garden when one of them squealed, turned, and ran back toward the house. “There’s a snake out there!” she exclaimed. “I’m not venturing any further.”
“Oh, come on!” I replied. “That’s just one of my glass lizards. His scientific name is Ophisaurus ventralis.” The garden club members thought they might be looking at a tiny dinosaur, since the ‘saurus’ part of the name sounded rather dinosaur-like. I explained that the generic name meant “snake lizard.”
Well now, it is possible that a snake might have been seen in my garden. I’ve seen green snakes, black snakes, corn snakes, and a few others, but I was never particularly concerned about them. Adjoining my property is a large, vacant parcel. I like that, too, because the vacant property provides habitat for many of the butterflies, birds, box turtles and other creatures that visit my yard. They honor me with their presence when I’m lucky.
This time, however, what my friend saw was not a snake. It was one of my treasured glass lizards foraging for insects, spiders, and other invertebrates, or perhaps a small reptile or young rodent. I welcome them in my garden and intensely regret when I accidently harm one of them in some way. I consider them entirely beneficial creatures.
Eastern glass lizards can grow anywhere from 18 to 43 inches long. The tail is the longest part of the lizard, typically comprising about two-thirds its total length. The head and body portion does not grow longer than about 12 inches. Long, slender, and legless, glass lizards superficially resemble snakes. However, unlike snakes, they have moveable eyelids, external ear openings, and inflexible jaws.
Coloration and patterning are quite variable. When young, glass lizards are yellow-greenish or khaki-colored and usually sport a broad, dark stripe lengthwise down each side of the body. Older male lizards may be heavily speckled. The Eastern glass lizard does not have a dorsal stripe as others of his genus do, but it has several vertical whitish bars just behind the head.
If you live in the southern and eastern parts of Georgia and South Carolina, or in the southern three-fourths of Alabama and Mississippi, or anywhere in Florida, you have probably seen these glass lizards from time to time. They are particularly plentiful in flatwoods and in wetlands and may even be found in coastal dune habitats. I find them in my garden slithering across the lawn or when I’m digging for one reason or another. Many times I encounter their leathery eggs beneath the mulch and in the sandy soil just below the mulch. The female deposits her eggs there in spring, and they hatch during the summer.
The glass lizard gets its common name because of the capability of breaking off all or part of its tail. This happens when the lizard is attacked, especially if the predator grabs the tail. Comprising more than half the lizard’s total length, the tail breaks off, sometimes into several pieces. The predator is usually makes a happy meal of the thrashing tail and the lizard slithers away unharmed. The tail will grow back, though it may take months or even years. Predators include snakes, hawks, and carnivorous animals.
If you are of such a mind, you can handle a glass lizard. Most of us would drop it pretty quickly since it wriggles and writhes vigorously, and the tail may even drop off. That would be enough to scare me! However, they are not poisonous. Adult individuals may be able to inflict a pinch that could hurt a bit, but the bite would most likely not break the skin.
As time goes by, I learn to appreciate most of nature’s creatures that visit or make a home on my residential lot. I did have a problem with a bed of yellow jackets that took up residence in a hole near my front door, and the little guinea wasps that make paper nests on the bottom of the aspidistra leaves sometimes take me by surprise. The glass lizards, however, are always welcome. I’ll nurture and encourage them, and hopefully be able to enjoy them for many more years.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, Public Domain. Photographer Joshua R. Dimpfl