Notes on the feeding behaviour of the Common Scaly Foot (Pygopus lepidopodus) and Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis).

Originally published in HERPTILE (UK), 10 (3), 1985, Pages 93-94,

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This paper first appeared in HERPTILE - JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL HERPETOLOGICAL SOCIETY IN 1985, What follows is a text only version of the same article (no italics) and without the photos and other material that appeared in the original magazine. Please download the entire article if desired, however if the article is later referred to, please cite Herptile as the original published source. Publication details are that it was published in Volume 10, number 3, pages 93-94.


In captivity the Common Scaly Foot (Pygopus lepidopodus) stalks its food, which consists of both animal and vegetable material; many captive specimens showing a strong preference for banana!

In the summer of 1981 (December) I was "night cruising" the roads near Terrey Hills, N.S.W. (lat. 33' 15', S long. 151' 15' E) primarily to capture reptiles suitable as food for baby Death Adders (Acanthophis) when I came upon a freshly killed, adult Scaly Foot. The stomach was later found to contain the full tail of an adult P.lepidopodus.

That same evening, a 15 cm Typhlina nigrescens and an adult P. lepidopodus were placed together in a large tin. A few hours later the T.nigrescens had vanished. Later dissection revealed that it had, in fact, been eaten by the Scaly Foot.

On other occasions P.lepidopodus found in the Terrey Hills district have contained Lamprophis platynota (most frequently), Sphenomorphus tenuis, Ctenotus taeniolatus and a frog, Ranidella signifera.

Lialis burtonis, in contrast to Pygopus, appears to hunt (at least in captivity) mainly by ambushing its prey (Chapman 1981 pers. comm., Croft, 1980 pers.comm., Hoser unpubl.). These reptiles will rest in grass tussocks (if provided in their cage) for most of the time and attack prey, usually lizards, when it comes within range. In the wild this species almost certainly relies on its colouration as camouflage, useful in both defence and prey capture.

It is interesting to note that in the Sydney area, two distinct colour morphs are found. These are brick-red and steel-grey. Although these two forms interbreed freely, intermediate colour forms do not exist.

Acanthophis antarcticus, (see Hoser - this issue of Herptile) which also occurs in the Sydney region, also has a brick-red and steel-grey colour morph.

This similarity with regard to colouration between these two species may be a result of similar feeding habits or habitat selection.


Whilst unrelated to feeding behaviour, I have observed in Pygopide one peculiar behavioural trait. When legless lizards of the genera Delma , and on rarer occasions Pygopus , are startled by the headlights of an approaching car they may 'jump' or 'hop' across the roads on their tails! Lialis burtonis does not appear to share this habit.


I wish to express my gratitude to Harold Chapman and Robert Croft for supplying observations on Pygopids in captivity and to David Altman, Ben Copeland and Martin Wells for assisting with the capture of Pygopids during night field-work.

Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 150 papers in journals worldwide and nine major books.

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