California legless lizard (Anniella pulchra)

The California legless lizard (Anniella pulchra) is a limbless, burrowing lizard often mistaken for a snake.


These lizards are around 7 inches (18 cm) long from snout to vent (not including tail). They have small, smooth scales typically colored silvery above and yellow below, although black or dark brown forms exist in Monterey County, California which were thought to be a separate subspecies at one point.


There were formerly two subspecies of California legless lizard recognized based on individual color morphs: the silvery legless lizard, A. p. pulchra, and the black legless lizard, A. p. nigra. However, contemporary taxonomy considers them simply a melanistic morph. More recently (in 2013), A. pulchra has been split up into five different species: A. pulchra (with a narrower definition), A. alexanderae, A. campi, A. grinnelli, and A. stebbinsi.

Distribution and habitat

They live in loose, sandy soils or leaf litter, typically in sand dunes along the coast. They are found from Contra Costa County in northern California, all the way south to Baja California, although occurrences are often scattered. They require moisture to aid in shedding their skin. Without it, their vision and feeding can be affected, potentially starving the animal.


Their diet consists of mainly beetles, larval insects, termites, ants, and spiders.


Males are slightly smaller than females, otherwise there is no discernible difference between the two sexes. Females are ovoviviparous and probably breed between early spring and July, with 1 to 4 young born September-November. Young lizards resemble their parents except look like smaller versions of them.


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About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.