Snake, Earthworm or Lizard? The debate heats up!

Ah the internet, where everyone can agree on the big things like peace and love, but will get into blindingly hateful arguments over something like are Tiny Teddies considered a biscuit or a cookie.

Since the picture I took of a Redback Spider feeding on a ‘Blind Snake’ went viral, there have been dozens of people arguing about species.  Whilst everyone agrees it is a Redback spider and most people seem to agree with my assessment that it is a Blind Snake, lots of people have their own theories about what the Redback is actually feeding on, some arguing for different species of snake and some arguing that it is a completely different creature all together!

Now whilst I initially thought it was a Brown Snake, which some people have messaged me to say they think it actually is, I concluded it was a Blind Snake as it strongly resembled those I have accidentally dug up from time to time around my property.

Ramphotyphlops australis – the Blind Snake. Source: Museum Victoria
But could I be wrong?  Nay, stay your disbelief!  I actually can be wrong you know – it happens about once a decade (anyone who saw my cowlick hairdo in the 90’s or met my first wife in the 00’s knows I can make HUGE errors in judgment).  I was taking photos with one hand and keeping my kids back with the other before I disposed of the whole grizzly scene so I didn’t exactly manage to get my Junior Scientist kit out for a proper examination.  I went via the evidence of my eyes and previous experience, both of which have stood me well in the past.

 

So what are the other theories out there?   I’ve already mentioned some believe it is a Brown Snake but completely different animals seems to be the order of the day:

 

EARTHWORM THEORY

Michael Piggott of Epsom in Victoria believes it may be a giant Earthworm.

Well I can’t see a head in the picture. It looks pointy at both ends. Snakes normally have a pointy end and a bitey end. I was in the pet store looking at baby snakes on Friday and they look very different to yours. They actually look quite beautiful.”

Victorian Giant Earthworm. Source: Museum Victoria
Despite Michael not living locally, it seems according to Social Media there quite a few Swanhillians who agree with Michael’s assessment and it is usually the people who live in an area that are in the know.

 

LEGLESS LIZARD THEORY

The most prevalent theory I have been presented with is that it is a Legless Lizard.  This has been touted by everyone from day workers to former school Principals.

Legless Lizard – photo provided by Tabatha Tihomimov
Tabatha Tihomimov, an avid snake enthusiast who boasts 80 live snakes in her personal collection is one of the people getting behind the Legless Lizard theory:

“I think it’s a Legless Lizard because of the scale pattern (smooth scales) and the tiny little leg, shape of the head etc”

It seems most of the people who don’t think it is a Blind Snake believe Tabatha to be correct on this score.

 

SLIDER SKINK THEORY

After the photo had been circulating for a few days, we had interest come from the scientific community itself!

Heath Butler, who  has an Honours degree in Zoology and has studied the movement patterns of Tiger Snakes had a new theory:

“It’s a Slider Skink (Lerista punctatovittata).  They are practically legless.  No Australian blind snake has a pointed snout like that, or a tapered tail”

This was soon supported by Heath’s former professor, Mr Nick Clemann.  Nick is a Senior Scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute, where he leads the Threatened Fauna Program. Nick specializes in reptiles and amphibians and has spent years studying the Mallee and Riverina herpetofauna

“The pointed snout clearly shows that this is a Lerista skink – and most certainly not a Ramphotyphlops. I have worked with both for many years, and I can assure you that Heath is correct. Furthermore, you will notice that the lizard changes colour from where the body ends and the tail begins (tellingly, right about where the rear legs are!). At the very bottom of the photograph you can see the alternating black and white colour pattern that is typical of the dorsal surface of Lerista punctatovittata, and does not occur on Blind Snakes. Lastly, you can even see the tiny, vestigial forelimb.”

Image provided by Nick Clemann
This was also supported by Geoff Heard, a Post Doctoral Researcher at the University of Melbourne. Geoff studies frog movement and disease, and works with Mr Clemann on reptiles around Victoria, including in the Mallee, where he has an ongoing trapping program to examine the effects of fire on reptiles.

“Heath is spot on”.

Someone else who asserts it is a Slider Skink is Mr Michael Swan who has been a Senior Reptile Keeper with Zoos Victoria for 17 years.

“It’s definitely not a snake…….and it does appear to be Lerista punctatovittata”

I asked Mr Clemann about Legless Lizards and how that seemed to be the popular choice for what this creature is and asked was there really much of a difference between a Legless Lizard and a Slider Skink. He answered thusly:

“There is much confusion around common names, which is why scientists like to use scientific names. There are 5 families of lizards in Australia: skinks, dragons, goannas/monitors, geckos and legless lizards. Legless lizards are technically very closely related to geckos. So a skink is no more a legless lizard than a goanna is a gecko. And skinks vary enormously in size. Australia’s smallest lizard (called Grey’s Skink) is about 3 to 4 cm in total length when fully grown, but things like Stumpy-tailed Lizards and Blue-tongued Lizards are also skinks.
Like legless lizards, some skinks have greatly reduced limbs, usually because they have evolved to live underground, or to ‘snake’ their way through thick vegetation. Leristas are an example of this. But they are NOT legless lizards, they are skinks.”

 

So what IS it?

So what this creature be?  Brown Snake?  Giant Earthworm? Do we believe the large group who think it is a Legless Lizard?  Do we believe the scientists and experts with their years of training and their consensus that it is a Slider Skink?  Or do we believe Big Angry Trev who stared at it for 2 minutes before crushing it with a watering can that it was a Blind Snake.  Yes yes, I know your first instinct is to simply agree with me and believe whatever I say – it’s usually where the smart money is.  But I must admit, I tend to defer to scientists and Heath and his crew make very persuasive arguments but then the likes of Tabatha certainly knows more about reptiles than I.

The photo that sparked a national debate!

Write in the comments below what you believe the creature is, I would love to read your opinion!

Related Blog Posts:

Redback Spider killing Blind Snake – my morning surprise!

Spider kills Snake – the media storm hits!

Redback Spider kills Blind Snake – television news report

2 Comments


  1. // Reply

    It does appear to be a lerista. However youd be a fool to believe that anything a so called expert says is gospel and true. Id say get more qualified experts opinions and then dig deeper.


  2. // Reply

    If you want to see some really fascinating reptile behaviour look up my you tube video on red-bellied black snake tail displays, amazing!!! I bet you havent seen anything like it, i know Geoff hasnt.

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