Backyard Buddies
Burton's Legless Lizard

Photo: Matt Clancy

Burton's Legless Lizard

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The Burton's Legless Lizard is often mistaken for a snake at first glance, and it's an easy mistake to make. However, the Burton's Legless Lizard is actually more closely related to geckos than to snakes.

There are key differences between snakes and this deceptive looking lizard. A good one to look for is the shape of its face. A Burton's Legless Lizard has a wedge-shaped snout that sets it apart from both snakes and other lizards.

The Burton's Legless Lizard also sports a pair of obvious ear openings on either side of its head. Unlike a snake, it has a broad, flat, and fleshy tongue. If you get close enough, you can also look out for the very subtle marks of their tiny hind limbs, which a snake will not have.

In September, the Burton's Legless Lizard in southern Australia will be looking for a mate. In summer, the female will lay 1-3 parchment-shelled eggs under a log, rock, on the ground or even in the nest of sugar ants. In northern Australia, the Burton's Legless Lizards breed at other times of the year, but still keep an eye out, as you might spot a communal nest with up to 20 eggs in it.

These lizards may look like snakes, and can hiss and rear when threatened, but Burton's Legless Lizards are not dangerous.

Apart from camouflage skills, the Burton's Legless Lizard's most useful defence mechanism is its ability to drop its tail if attacked. This is quite the makeover, as its tail can make up three quarters of its body. This is known as 'tail autotomy'. 'Autotomy' comes from the Greek words for 'self' and 'severing'. These versatile lizards are able to regenerate and grow another tail.

The Burton's Legless Lizard mostly eats small reptiles, such as skinks and even other legless lizards. Like a snake, the legless lizard lies in wait until the time is right to pounce, with speed and accuracy.

A Burton's Legless Lizard has a special hinge across its skull that allows it to encircle its prey. Its flexible jaw can dislocate and wrap completely around its victim. The legless lizard grabs its prey around the chest, suffocating it and then eating the head first.

Burton's Legless Lizard can be spotted across most of Australia, except on the southern coast of Australia and Tasmania. Keep an eye out in your garden on hot summer nights, as they are nocturnal in warm areas.

In cooler states, they are active during the day. They like grasslands, beaches, woodlands and rainforests and can often be found sheltering under fallen timber, so look out for them if you go for a walk.


To be a good buddy to the legless lizard, make sure you securely cover your backyard pool, as you may just find a lizard in it that has fallen in by accident. Take care when mowing your lawn as well, in case a legless lizard or blue tongue is out and about.

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”Protecting & safeguarding Australia’s wilderness & wildlife is important for the health and enjoyment for our future generations, thanks FNPW for your support of our project.“

Dr Ricky Spencer – Lead Scientist Murray River Turtle Project, NSW

Photo: OEH