Glass Lizard (aka Scheltopusik)

Ophisaurus apodus

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • This species requires a minimum tank length of 3 feet, although 4 feet is preferred.
  • Low branches for climbing can be provided as the lizards will utilize them. Be sure branches are secure, and that the weight of the lizard(s) will not cause them to topple.
  • provide other hiding places, whether via a hidebox or hollow logs, etc. Like all reptiles, the scheltopusik needs a place to hide in order to feel secure, and security results in a healthier animal.
  • Temperature, Lighting, and Humidity:
    • They are diurnal, so will require UVB lighting. Full spectrum bulbs should be used.
    • Temperatures: basking location should be high-80s F
  • Substrate:
    • For ease of cleaning you can use newspaper, although a substrate of large size cypress* mulch is preferable. If kept on paper provide hiding places.
    • Several inches of a burrowable substrate, such as cypress* mulch or potting soil mixed with sand is optimal.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, glass lizards eat soft-bodied invertebrates such as snails, slugs, and worms. They can also take small birds, lizards, mammals, and large insects.
  • In captivity, they are fed pinky mice, mealworms, and crickets.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Many specimens available are wild caught and may carry parasites.

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Temperment varies widely among individuals. Frequent short handling sessions can help to 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.

Potential Messaging

  • Side by side comparison with a snake will allow you to point out the features that make them different.
  • In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.

Acquisition Information

Currently, this species is difficult to acquire within AZA and has only been available through the private sector.

Comments from the Rating System

  • Oakland Zoo: Very interesting option if you have the right set-up!

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Glass lizards live in southern Asia and southeastern Europe. They prefer drier habitats, but are particularly active in wet weather. They like open country, such as short grassland or sparsely wooded hills. They can be found in piles of dead leaves and decaying matter, short grass near ponds and springs, and beneath logs and boards.

Physical Description

Sandy brown in color with dark brown irregular lines on the sides, glass lizards have an elongated, tapering form. Juveniles are light gray with dark gray stripes, but this patters disappears within a year. There is a groove on either side of the body that lets the lizard increase its volume for breathing, eating, and pregnancy. The body scales are mainly diamond-shaped, arranged in rings around the body and connected to osteoderms. The skin is also quite hard.
Glass lizards have no limbs. To make up for this lack, the trunk musculature is quite powerful.
Glass lizards can reach a length of up to 135 centimeters (53 inches). The tail makes up for about two-thirds of the total length.

Life Cycle

Females lay 8 to 17 eggs in early June. She will brood them for 56 to 61 days, until they hatch. Average lifespan is about 20 years, but the record is 50.


Glass lizards are burrowing lizards, often found when plowing. They are mostly nocturnal, and hide underground during the day.

Threats and Conservation Status


Did you know…

  • Glass lizards are also called legless lizards. The Slavic name for them, sheltopusik, means “yellow belly.” The scientific name means “snakelizard legless.”
  • The scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus) is not completely legless. It has tiny, rudimentary rear limbs, measuring about 2 millimeters, which can sometimes be seen near the cloaca.
  • The word “scheltopusik” is Slavic, from the Russian word for “yellow belly.” It is the largest legless lizard and can reach a length of about 4 feet.
  • They are called glass lizards because when they are caught or injured, the tail can break off, allowing the lizard to escape. This is a last resort, though, as the tail will regrow poorly, and look shorter and darker. They prefer to twist, hiss, lunge, or bite. The bite is quite hard.
    • While it is true that some legless lizards may readily drop their tails if molested, the scheltopusik is not known for doing so.
  • Glass lizards move differently than snakes. Instead of slithering, they throw their bodies from side to side. They can also roll.


Cover image: Reptiles magazine


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Contributors and Citations