Legless Lizards

(P1) An UNREMARKABLE looking piece of land opposite Canberra’s Exhibition Park is where conservationists are attempting the rescue of the ENDANGERED reptile, the striped legless lizard.

(P2) The GRASSLAND site is being cleared to create a park and tourist ACCOMMODATION for up to 480 people.

(P3) Unfortunately, the animal INHABITANTS of the grassland are unaware their home is set to be TORN ASUNDER and only the INTERVENTION of a conservation group, Bush Heritage Australia, is saving 200 striped legless lizards, one of the last populations of the species left in the country.

(P4) South-east Australia has lost 99% of its grasslands since Europeans arrived and decided that houses, cattle, and sheep were WELL-SUITED for these treeless, largely unloved areas.

(P5) “Protecting grasslands is a hard thing to sell to people – they aren’t particularly valued,” says Peter Saunders, a Bush Heritage landscape manager.

(P6) “People see them as a place to walk their dog or maybe GRAZE some sheep. But they are incredibly VALUABLE for a large number of plants and a surprising number of reptiles and insects. Even FUNGUS. Did you know Australia has two-thirds of the world’s fungus species?”

(P7) Legless lizards are related to SKINKS and GECKOS but are often mistaken for snakes because of their long bodies and similar-looking heads. There are a few key differences: legless lizards have visible ears, no FORKED tongue, and are not dangerous at all!

(P8) The species has other PECULIARITIES. Most of its body is made up of tail which can DETACH from its body in sections if it needs to FLEE quickly. And, oddly, the legless lizard SQUEAKS when handled, much like a STARTLED mouse.

(P9) To capture these legless lizards, Bush Heritage has purchased roof TILES. The idea is simple but effective. Reptiles like to press themselves against heated surfaces to get warm. As the sun heats the tiles, legless lizards will WRIGGLE underneath them.

(P10) The tiles are then FLIPPED OVER and the catcher quickly presses his or her palm over the legless lizard. The complication is that brown snakes, one of the world’s most VENOMOUS species, can also be under the tiles and, in a SPLIT SECOND, can look a little like a legless lizard.

(P11) “It looks a bit like a snake if you haven’t seen one before,” said Brett Howland, a Bush Heritage member. “I pick up the tiles sometimes and see snakes and that throws me backwards. There’s probably something in our evolution that means we INSTINCTIVELY fear snakes.

(P12) “But when you see a snake next to a legless lizard you’ll see they look quite different. Their behaviour is different, too. A legless lizard is very PLACID but if that was a brown snake” – Howard points to a recently flipped tile – “it would have looked towards me and been quite AGGRESSIVE. Not all snakes are like that, of course.”

(P13) Not having legs means the lizard can move quickly through grasslands and is an instinctive burrower. When you hold one, it appears as if it is REARING ITS HEAD to strike but it is, in fact, looking for somewhere to hide.

(P14) Once the legless lizards are caught – 31 so far – they are taken to the Australian National University to be weighed, measured and marked so that their progress can be checked. The longest can measure 30cm, and weight is about the 9g mark.

(P15) The striped legless lizards are being moved to Scottsdale, a former farming property 75km south of Canberra. Bush Heritage bought the site in 2006.

(P16) This is the first species to be moved to the Scottsdale property to save it. If the legless lizards survive a few years and successfully breed, the RELOCATION will be HAILED a TRIUMPH.

WORDS: 611



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Are you afraid of snakes? Are there any dangerous snakes in your country?
  3. What kinds of WILDLIFE can be seen in your town or city?
  4. Grassland areas often have interesting plants. Have you ever GARDENED as a hobby?
  5. Are there any zoos or BOTANICAL GARDENS near where you live?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Endangered species
  • Torn asunder
  • Well-suited
  • Flip over
  • Split second
  • Rear its head
  • Botanical garden

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