Rhineura floridana Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
The Florida worm lizard looks like a large pink earthworm. However it is not an earthworm, or even a lizard but an amphisbaenid, an independent suborder of the order Squamata – of which lizards and snakes are the other two suborders.
Fossil evidence suggests that the closest relative of the Florida worm lizard lived in the North American Great Plains 60 million years ago, but the once widespread family Rhineuridae has since gone extinct everywhere except in Central Florida. The Florida worm lizard is the only amphisbaenid native to North America.
Worm lizards are specialized burrowers with scales arranged in rings that make them look like an earthworm. They vary from pale to bright pink in color and their skin looks too big and loose for their body. They have no limbs and no functional eyes.
Like the sand skink, the worm lizard has a lower jaw that is countersunk or recessed into the lower surface of the head, to prevent sand from getting in the mouth. The species is highly adapted for life underground, the eyes are covered with scales and the snout, used for burrowing, is wedge shaped.
Most Florida worm lizards are 6-12 inches long but occasional specimens of 14 inches have been reported. They are found in dry upland habitats with sandy soil, sand pine forest, longleaf pine-turkey oak forest and upland hammocks. Very little is known about the biology of this species. They are thought to feed on termites, small insects and ants. In late summer females lay 1-3 white oblong eggs that hatch 2-3 months later.
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