If asked to explain what a snake is, a lot of people would probably say, “a reptile with no legs.” But that’s not quite right—while all snakes are legless reptiles, not all legless reptiles are snakes. Meet the legless lizards.

Legless lizards look a lot like snakes—many of them have scaly, snakelike skin, and they don’t have legs, so they move by slithering or burrowing in the earth. But there are some key differences that have shown scientists that legless lizards aren’t snakes—they’re part of the reptile family that includes four-legged lizards like geckos, but over time, they “lost” their legs to better suit their lifestyles. Their skeletons still show traces of these lost limbs—it’s a little like how human ancestors lost their tails, but we still have tailbones at the bottom of our spines. Some legless lizards have tiny little nubs where their ancestors had legs.

Some of the strangest legless lizards don’t even look that much like snakes—they look more like worms! Their scales are small and smooth, and they live underground, where they eat insects and larvae. But despite their appearance, these animals are still lizards!

 

Photo by Richard Avery