Lialis burtonis: secretly a gecko
Burton’s legless lizard, otherwise known as “the most Australian lizard of all time,” is basically a gecko that’s turned into a snake. This basically means that it can shout at you and has tiny little flap-scale feet.
Above: What passes for its legs. It only gets two, because Australia.
Pygopods are a clump of geckos that have kind of given up on having feet, with genus Lialis in particular having evolved into something much closer to snakes. Most pygopods are rather on the shy side, a bit small, and specialize in eating the same sort of insect and small vertebrate that normal geckos go after. Lialis burtonis and Lialis jicari, on the other hand, go after skinks up to like half their own size.
It’s kind of hard to tell whether they’re like, fucking awesome lizards or kind of crap snakes, really. I mean, I’ve mentioned the shouting thing. Snakes can’t vocalize. They lack the apparatus. Pygopods, on the other hand, can squeak, bark, and grunt at you, because they’re really geckos. They’re two feet long, which is fucking long as hell for a gecko but not very big for a snake. They can’t produce venom, because they’re lizards*, and they’re not really set up to wrap around a skink and crush it that way, but to make up for it they basically spend an hour slowly strangling it with their mouths, which is pretty hardcore.
And also ridiculous-looking. I mean, really ridiculous-looking.
They have hinged, recurved teeth which help them get their dead lizards down their throats without the option of the normal-lizard “cram everything in your face with your forepaws if need be” technique. Their fat little gecko tongues can also be used to manipulate prey, because they have fat little gecko tongues instead of, you know, forked snake tongues.
They don’t have special snake organs to scent prey or prey’s body heat, either. Oh! They also don’t have eyelids. Because geckos. But they can retract their fucking eyes, so I think that one might be a draw.
Above: Researchers annoy a lizard.
What they do have is really good eyesight and really flexible skulls. Their elongated, pointy little faces feature stupidly flexible mesokinetic and hypokinetic joints, which is science-speak for “they look like sock-puppets when they grab something.”
(The mid-range sciencey version is that the mesokinetic joint is the skull suture right behind the eyes that flexes up and down, and the hypokinetic joint is the suture that runs right across the palate and flexes up and down. You wanna go balls-out on this, there’s a paper for that.)
Other snake tricks these lizards pull involve shaking their tails in order to distract and lure prey. Researchers haven’t caught them using it just to lure skinks to their doom, but they have found that, if they miss their initial strike, they’ll use it to distract the lizard while they go in for the kill again. Since they frequently go after lizards that they have to worry about biting back and lizards that they won’t be able to kill if they don’t catch them in the right place, lining up a good shot is particularly important.
*There are like two venomous lizards for the fifty species of venomous snake living under the average Australian bed, so shush.
[Head-bonking illustration from “Dangerous food: lacking venom and constriction, how do snake-like lizards ( Lialis burtonis , Pygopodidae) subdue their lizard prey?” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, v.91]
OH MY GOD THIS IS REALLY CUTE I REALLY WANT ONE THEY LOOK SO FRIENDLY I MIGHT BE STUPID AS FUCK BUT MY TWO FAVORITE THINGS: GECK AND SNAKE COMBINED INTO ONE FUCK IT I WANT TO LOVE ONE