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‘Snake’ on Outer Banks is actually legless lizard with detachable tail, experts say

The eastern glass lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis). looks like a snake, but has ear holes and movable eyelids.
The eastern glass lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis). looks like a snake, but has ear holes and movable eyelids. Cape Hatteras National Seashore photo

The Outer Banks is a comfy fit for rattlesnakes, which like swimming in the surf, but the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is now alerting visitors to an even stranger “snake” found on North Carolina’s remote barrier islands.

It looks exactly like a snake, growing up to three and a half feet long, but with a few truly odd differences.

“Unlike a snake, he has external ear holes and movable eyelids,” says a National Park Service Facebook post. “Eek!!”

The reptile is actually a legless lizard — the eastern glass lizard — and it has the ability to wink with those eyelids, the post adds.

“The eastern glass lizard... is often mistaken for a snake,” says Herpsofnc.org. “When restrained, eastern glass lizards often thrash and break off their tail.”

Tails broken off an eastern glass lizard will actually “writhe for several minutes,” the site adds.

A North Carolina couple stepped out of a restaurant Tuesday just in time to see a non-venomous water snake using the dock as a dinner table. "Its not something you see everyday," said John Carney Edwards.

This is a defense mechanism: The wiggling tail can distract predators while the lizard sprints away, says the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia.

That ability to “shatter” into multiple pieces is how they got the name “glass lizard,” says the laboratory.

“The common belief that these pieces can rejoin is a myth, although the tail will slowly regrow over a period of months or years,” says the lab’s website.

The lizards — also known as the horn snake and stinging snake — are found in the coastal plain and Piedmont of six states along the southeast coast, according to OutdoorAlabama.com.

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