I like when animals behave as anticipated. I enjoy the undulating flight pattern of a woodpecker. I get a kick out of the hundreds of toads coming out to mate after the first big rain or a black bear standing on its hind legs to get a whiff of danger. But even more exciting is when an animal does something that they’re “not supposed to do”.
A few years ago I moved back home to Florida and was out rumbling down a back road in the Big Cypress National Preserve. I noticed a dark line ahead in the distance. Often these are simply branches or occasionally just a mirage but in this case, it was what I expected to be the first snake of the day. Sure enough, basking in the sun and stretched half way across the road was a long, skinny “snake” of unknown variety. The Everglades is home to twenty seven native species of snakes including four venomous types, so the first order of business was to identify it. The head was thin; not triangular shaped like the rattlesnakes or the Cottonmouths. It didn’t have the distinct pattern of red yellow and black stripes of a Coral Snake, so it wasn’t venomous.
I edged closer to get a better look at the colors and patterns. It looked vaguely like a Garter or Ribbon Snake but something didn’t look right. I took one more step and it blinked.
Snakes don’t blink. They have no eyelids. This was not a snake but an Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis). Glass Lizards have eyelids and can blink! They can also chew their food instead of swallowing it whole. And unlike snakes they have ears and can hear more than just vibrations. This species is common in wetlands and grasslands and the only legless lizard in the Everglades. They can grow up to 42” and most of their body is tail. As a defense, the tail can break off and regrow. They slither like a snake too and true to form, when I touched the tail, it slithered quickly off the road and into the sawgrass, tail still intact.
Of course the Legless Lizard behaved as one should but my expectation of its behavior based on my initial incorrect identification led to a fun surprise. It’s good to take a closer look. That snake might be a lizard you’ve never seen before.