Queensland Museum Network sites are operating in line with Queensland Government measures where only fully vaccinated visitors (16 years and older) can attend Government-owned museums from 17 December. Learn more.

November 2013

Snakes vs. Legless lizards and skinks

I have heard that some lizards look like snakes. How do you tell them apart?


1. Tongue:
Snakes are forked

1a. Tongue:
Lizards/skinks are broad & fleshy

Ear Opening 2. Ear Opening:
Snakes do not have ear openings
2a. Ear Opening:
Lizards/skinks have ear openings
3. Scales:
Snakes have large belly scales
3a. Scales:
Lizards/skinks have small belly scales
5. Legs:
Snakes have no legs
5a. Legs:
Lizards/skinks have legs

Some legless (or flap footed) lizards and skinks are superficially very similar to snakes. Here are some distinguishing features to look for:

  1. Snakes have forked tongues. Lizards and skinks (except for goannas) have broad, fleshy tongues.
  2. Snakes have no external ear openings. Nearly all Australian lizards and skinks do, but they may be very small.
  3. Most snakes have wide belly scales. Lizards and skinks have small belly scales; not much wider than the body scales.
  4. Snakes have short tails. Lizards and skinks have long tails (usually longer then the body length).
  5. Snakes don’t have legs. Lizards and skinks do but they may be tiny or reduced to flaps that are held tightly against the body near the base of the tail.

While at first glance snakes and some legless lizards and skinks look the same, they are quite different once you know what distinguishing features to look for.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.