The Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar) is one of South Australia’s rarest reptiles. It’s a grassland specialist that was historically considered to be widely distributed in low altitude tussock grasslands in south-eastern Australia. However, the loss and fragmentation of grassland habitat across Australia, along with other emerging threats has resulted in a rapid decline in this species across its distribution.
The Striped Legless Lizard belongs to the family of “flap-footed lizards” called the Pygopodidae. There are 42 described species of legless lizards within the Australian region. Legless lizards are often misidentified due to their superficial likeness to snakes. Apart from hindlimb flaps (an evolutionary remnant of legs), they differ from snakes in having a thick fleshy tongue rather than a slender forked tongue, and most species have an obvious ear opening.
The distribution of the Striped Legless Lizard in South Australia appears to be restricted to a small number of populations around Naracoorte in the south-east of the state. As part of a national recovery strategy for this species, field surveys were commenced over ten years ago by the Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and Nature Glenelg Trust. However, funding restraints have prevented this work from continuing in recent years.
Zoos SA with support from major partner, Beach Energy, is very excited to be able to recommence this work and over the next few years will be looking to confirm its presence in previous recorded sites, and we hope to build our knowledge about this species by finding new sites where the Striped Legless Lizard has not previously been found.
There are many different ways to search for reptiles in their natural habitat. One method that has proven successful is using roof tiles set up in a survey grid. Roof tiles not only serve as artificial refugia, but also provide a method of warming for ectothermic organisms such as reptiles. Survey grids usually comprise of 50 roof tiles arranged in rows. The tiles are then ‘lifted’ to check for presence of the reptile being searched for.
Zoos SA conservation staff recently commenced searching for the Striped Legless Lizard with field trips to Hacks Lagoon, Bool Lagoon and Lake Ormerod. Unfortunately, no Striped Legless Lizards have been found just yet, however the peak time for detecting them using the roof tile method is during spring and early summer. However, a range of other reptiles have been found under roof tiles including Copperheads (Austrelaps superbus), Little Whip Snakes (Parasuta flagellum) and the rare Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni).
In addition to field surveys, we’re also hoping to raise awareness about the Striped Legless Lizard within local communities in the south-east of the state, and in doing so, help safeguard this amazing creature from extinction.
Dr Phil Ainsley
Conservation Programs Manager
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