Burton’s Legless Lizard

Identifying A Burton’s Legless Lizard

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Burton’s Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis)

Perhaps one of the most unusual looking ‘snakes’ out there, the Burton’s Legless Lizard is actually a species of lizard found in various regions around Australia. Their serpentine appearance and distinct lack of front legs often has people confusing these legless lizards with snakes!

You may encounter a Burton’s Legless Lizard in your garden on the Sunshine Coast. A close enough look will uncover the small flap nearer to the rear of the lizard where hind legs once were.


About the Burton’s Legless Lizard

Despite their appearance, Burton’s Legless Lizards are entirely of the lizard, Pygopodidae family, and are more closely related to geckos than they are snakes.

These lizards are extraordinary looking, with long, slender bodies growing up to over 30cm long – although females tend to grow longer than males. The most noteworthy feature of the lizard is it unique wedge-shaped snout, which tapers to a point. Upper body colours tend to be cream, yellow, brown or grey, with light-coloured bellies.

In some regions, the Burton’s Legless Lizard may have a distinct stripe running along either side of its body. Unlike snakes, these lizards have visible ear holes and flat, fleshy tongues. Moreover, their pupils are vertical and they don’t have eyelids.


Where Can You Find the Burton’s Legless Lizard?

You could encounter a Burton’s Legless Lizard in most of the Australian mainland, with the southern coast being an exception. The preferred habitat of these legless lizards is grasslands, beaches, woodlands, and rainforests.

They are often found hiding or resting amidst foliage or fallen trees.


Is The Burton’s Legless Lizard Dangerous?

The Burton’s Legless Lizard is not a danger to humans. Though an unsuspecting individual may think these lizards are snakes when first encountering them, Burton’s Legless Lizards are not dangerous.

These lizards may bite when they feel threatened, but its most useful defence mechanism – like many geckos – is to drop its tail when attacked. Making up almost three-quarters of its body, a missing tail makes for quite the transformation!

This is a common defence mechanism in lizard families, and the Burton’s Legless Lizard is able to ‘regrow’ its tail.


What Does the Burton’s Legless Lizard Eat?

The Burton’s Legless Lizard is carnivorous and preys almost exclusively on lizards. Skinks are their primary source of food, but these legless lizards may also prey on other legless lizards, other lizard species, and geckos for food.

Their unique skull has a special hinge that allows them to dislocate their jaw, making swallowing food whole – and from the head down – that much easier!


What to do if you see a Burton’s Legless Lizard

If you come across a Burton’s Legless Lizard while out walking, or have one visit your home or garden, you have little to worry about. Non-threatening and entirely non-venomous, these lizards pose little danger to either children or pets.

If you would like to have any unwanted lizards or snakes removed from your garden or home, reach out to the Snake Rescue Sunny Coast team. With years of experience in identifying, capturing, and relocating snakes around the coast, we can help safely remove any reptiles from your premises.

Burton's Legless Lizard

Frequently Asked Questions

Burton’s legless lizard, also known as Burton’s snake-lizard or Burton’s worm-lizard, is a type of reptile that looks like a snake, but is actually a lizard without any legs. It is named after its discoverer, Edward Burton, an Australian naturalist who first described the species in 1836.

Burton’s legless lizard belongs to a group of legless lizards known as pygopodids, which are found only in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

This lizard looks very much like a snake, so it can be hard to identify one if you’ve never seen it before. However, there are some distinguishing features to look out for that can help you identify if a reptile you’ve encountered is a Burton’s legless lizard.

Look out for the following characteristics:

  • Cream, yellow, gray or brown upper body scales
  • Light coloured belly
  • Light coloured stripe on either side of its face
  • Long, slender body with wedge-shaped snout that tapers to a point
  • Visible ear holes 
  • Vertical pupils and no eyelids 
  • Flat, fleshy tongue

The easiest way to differentiate between this lizard and a snake is by looking at the most prominent lizard-only features it has, such as:

  • Visible ear holes
  • Flat, fleshy tongue
  • Wedge shaped head with a tapered snout 


Burton’s legless lizards may ‘side-wind’, using its body in a series of S-shaped curves to propel itself forward. In contrast, snakes move in a more fluid, undulating motion. This, in combination with identifying its physical characteristics, should help you tell the difference between a Burton’s legless lizard and a snake. If in doubt, simply give our team a call to accurately identify and safely capture to relocate any unwanted reptiles from your home or garden. 

It is very unlikely that these legless lizards will bite when provoked, though you should never purposely antagonise one. Its best defense, like most lizards, is to drop its tail and flee when threatened. 

As its name suggests, the Burton’s legless lizard is completely legless which is why many Sunshine Coast residents mistake it for a snake!

The Burton’s legless lizard is not dangerous or venomous. It may rear up and hiss to ward off a would-be predator but, in most scenarios, a frightened legless lizard will drops its tail and flee. 

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