While they may appear to be snakes, Glass Lizards (Genus Ophisaurus) are actually an entirely different group. They are unique from snakes in having eyelids, ear canals, an inflexible lower jaw, and distinct lateral skin folds. Snakes have scaled eyes, no ear canal, and a flexible jaw for consuming larger prey items. Mississippi specifically has three species, two extant and one extirpated. The two present species are the Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis) and the Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus). Both species differ in appearance and have different ranges that overlap in the southern part of the state (see specific species profiles for range maps).
Fully grown, Eastern and Slender glass lizards extend to lengths of 30-40 inches (Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina n.d.). While adult glass lizards like in those pictures above can look quite distinct, younger specimen may be a different story. At younger ages, both species sport an olive or golden brown coloration. Young of both species could be striped down the top of the back. The striping on the side of the body, particularly around the head, can provide the best characters for identification. Stripes below the lateral skin folds indicate the lizard is O. attenuatus, while the lacking of those stripes indicates O. ventralis. Adult O. ventralis tend to lack a dark dorsal stripe and may be greenish in coloration. Ophisaurus mimicus, the species likely extirpated from Mississippi, has three or four distinct stripes or rows of spots separated by lighter bands above the lateral skin groove (Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina n.d.). Sadly, O. mimicus has not been documented in Mississippi for multiple decades.
Habitats vary between the species, however they need well-drained soils to lay their eggs. The Eastern Glass Lizard exists in the sandhills and flatwoods of southern Mississippi. Slender Glass Lizards may also be found in these ecosystems, though they range into the grasslands and upland hardwood forests in central and northern Mississippi. They have been documented in a handful of the state’s northernmost counties and are the widest ranging glass lizard in the United States. In these habitats they are diurnally active; during the daytime, adults and juveniles hunt just about anything they can crush with their jaws, including various invertebrates and even other reptiles.
Glass lizards earn their namesake from their ability to quickly depart with small or substantial parts of their body as a defense mechanism. Up to and over two-thirds of their body length may be comprised of the tail section. When threatened or captured by predators, glass lizards will violently break off up to the entirety of the tail to distract or confuse predators while the body and all crucial organs safely escape. The energy requirement to regenerate the lost tail segment is great, so it is best to avoid eliciting this response when encountering a glass lizard in the wild.
Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. n.d. Mimic Glass Lizard. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. <https://herpsofnc.org/mimic-glass-lizard/>. Accessed 31 Mar 2023.
Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. n.d. Slender Glass Lizard. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. <https://herpsofnc.org/slender-glass-lizard/>. Accessed 31 Mar 2023.
Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. n.d. Eastern Glass Lizard. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. <https://herpsofnc.org/eastern-glass-lizard/>. Accessed 31 Mar 2023.
Native Reptiles and Amphibians of Virginia. n.d. Virginia Herpetological Society. <http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com>. Accessed 31 Mar 2023.