Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Ophidiocephalus taeniatus (Bronzeback Snake-lizard) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2008ad) [Conservation Advice].
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan not required, included on the Not Commenced List (1/11/2009).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat abatement plan for competition and land degradation by rabbits (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008adh) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011m) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NT:Threatened Species of the Northern Territory - Bronzeback Snake-lizard Ophidiocephalus taeniatus (McDonald, P., 2012) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NT: Listed as Endangered (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (Northern Territory): 2012 list)
SA: Listed as Rare (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): Rare species: June 2011 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Ophidiocephalus taeniatus [1630]
Family Pygopodidae:Squamata:Reptilia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Lucas and Frost, 1897
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

The current conservation status of the Bronzeback Snake-lizard, Ophidiocephalus taeniatus, under Australian and State Government legislation, is as follows:

National: This species is listed as Vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

South Australia: This species is listed as Vulnerable under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

Scientific name: Ophidiocephalus taeniatus

Common name: Bronzeback Snake-lizard

Other common names: Bronzeback, Bronzeback Legless Lizard

The Bronzeback Snake-lizard is a rich fawn-colored legless lizard with a pale grey head. A broad dark brown lateral band extending from the snout to the tip of the tail merges into the grayish-brown coloured belly. The scales of the belly and lower side surfaces have white free margins forming a reticulated pattern. The species possesses small limb flaps and a protruding snout. There are 16 mid-body scale rows. Adults reach a snout-vent length of around 100 mm. Patches of optimal habitat may support reasonably high numbers of individuals. Juveniles may actively disperse, possibly out of areas of optimal habitat into less preferred habitat (Ehmann 1981).

The type specimen was collected in 1897 near Charlotte Waters, west of the Simpson Desert in southern Northern Territory, although the exact location is not known (Cogger et al. 1993). Until recently, there had been no further confirmed reports of the species in the Northern Territory (McDonald & Fyfe 2008) despite anecdotal reports of the species occurring in the George Gill Ranges in southern Northern Territory (Gambold n.d. pers. comm. cited in Cogger et al. 1993). Recent surveys in areas surrounding the type locality, just north of the South Australia/Northern Territory border have discovered the species within the Northern Territory for the first time since 1897 (McDonald & Fyfe 2008). During this survey, 18 Bronzeback Snake-lizards were caught from 15 sites throughout the Beddome Ranges, and its westerly outliers, on New Crown and Umbeara Pastoral Leases.

Populations from within South Australia have been found at Abminga in northern South Australia, the Arckaringa Hills south-west of Oodnadatta, and several locations in the vicinity of Coober Pedy (Brandle 1998; Cogger et al. 1993; Pedler 2009). A total of five distinct populations are currently known from the western edge of Lake Eyre Basin, South Australia (Ehmann 2001).

This species may have a fairly continuous distribution along a band of stony tableland with Mulga (Acacia aneura) woodland, running from The Breakaways to north of Arckaringa Hills (Brandle 1998). The species may occur throughout the drainage basin of the Finke River and the western watershed of Lake Eyre (Ehmann 1981).

Detailed information is only available for the Bronzeback Snake-lizard population at Abminga, South Australia. Surveys at the site in 1978 suggested the 3600 m² of suitable habitat may support a population as large as 699 ±309 individuals. A total of 54 specimens were collected during those surveys (Ehmann 1981). Surveys at the same site in 1990 to 1991 failed to locate the species (Ehmann 1992).

The species may follow a boom-bust population cycle. Populations occur in ephemeral creek lines and are decimated with rare, large rain events. Populations would then recover in the following dry period (Ehmann 2001).

This species has been recorded at The Breakaways Reserve (Brandle 1998; Cogger et al. 1993; Matejcic 2003). Some potential habitat exists within the Witjira National Park and there may be undiscovered popualtions in these areas (Pedler 2009).

The Bronzeback Snake-lizard species is fossorial (burrowing) and occurs along drainage lines on dissected tablelands characteristic of the rim of the Lake Eyre Basin. Vegetation consists of low open woodland dominated by Gidgee (Acacia cambagei), Mulga (Acacia aneura) or Dead Finish (Acacia tetragonophylla) (Brandle 1998; Cogger et al. 1993).

Microhabitat consists of deep, matted leaf litter and plant debris overlying deep cracking clays, often near the bases of trees and shrubs (Brandle 1998; Cogger et al. 1993; Ehmann 1981). The species only occurs in areas with an uncompacted, heterogeneous soil horizon. Adequate drainage may be critical to maintaining this habitat feature (Ehmann 1981). The species uses deep cracks for refuge sites when disturbed (Ehmann 1981).

Within South Australia, the species has been recorded in the leaf litter of several different plant species, including Gidgee (Acacia cambagei), Mulga (Acacia aneura), Dead Finish (Acacia tetragonaphylla), Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) and Leafless Exocarpus (Exocarpus aphylla) in drainage lines flowing out of stony tablelands and breakaways (Pedler 2008, 2009). The southern Northern Territory population was found in Mulga and Gidgee litter as well as Latz's Wattle (A. latzii) and Witchetty Bush (A. kempeana) (McDonald & Fyfe 2008).

From observations made on the population at Abminga, South Australia, of the reproductive condition of adults and the relative abundance of juveniles, it appears that mating occurs nearer to August than January, possibly in early spring. The female reproductive effort is over by mid-January with two eggs being laid before this time (Ehmann 1981).

Tail loss appears to be common. Four of 47 adults collected at Abminga had original tails (Ehmann 1981).

Roach nymphs of the genus Calolampra are common in leaf litter and are an important food source for Bronzeback Snake-lizards at Abminga, South Australia. At least two species appear to be eaten by the Bronzeback Snake-lizard. In addition, some gut samples (total n = 12) included Lepidopteran larvae, termites, Coleopteran larvae, spiders, a pseudoscorpion and other unidentified insects. The gut of a Snake-lizard individual from Coober Pedy contained the remains of two Coleopteran larvae (Ehmann 1981).

The discovery of severed pieces of prey in gut contents suggests that the lizards do not always grasp their prey securely, only consuming severed or shed pieces (Ehmann 1981).

Captive specimens eat termites, small mealworms, small roaches and Tribolium beetles. Captive specimens drink free water by lapping from the edge of a small dish or water droplets on grass or on leaves (Ehmann 1981).

Bronzeback Snake-lizard is thought to remain under the leaf litter surface at all times, even when maintaining body temperature. Of 54 specimens collected at Abminga, South Australia, only one young specimen was above the leaf litter, sheltering under a sheet of iron beyond the edge of the preferred habitat (Ehmann 1981).

Juveniles may actively disperse, sometimes out of areas of preferred habitat to areas of marginal, shallow substrate (Ehmann 1981).

The species has been recorded falling into abandoned opal mining shafts near Coober Pedy (Pedler 2009). Two individuals were captured in these shafts during warm thundery weather in January and February 2009. The location of shafts was several metres from any vegetative cover and up to several hundred metres from any leaf litter that was considered ideal habitat: this demonstrates that the species must move across open ground at certain times.

Habitat change was hypothesised as the major cause of Bronzeback Snake-lizard population decline at Abminga, South Australia, with the stable leaf litter blanket observed in earlier surveys completely gone or buried under a sheet of dry and cohesive sediment ranging from 3 to 15 cm thick. In some areas, loosely packed gibber, 10 to 30 cm deep, replaced the previous surface of sandy loam. Habitat changes appear to be due to major flooding in 1989, perhaps exacerbated by changes to the ground surface from the impacts of grazing animals (Ehmann 1992).

Potential threatening processes to the Bronzeback Snake-lizard include overgrazing and trampling by cattle, grazing by rabbits, soil compaction and erosion, flooding, and loss of leaf litter (Cogger et al. 1993) however the habitat at the known localities was not under threat from current land uses (Brandle 1998). More recent surveys for the species found that proliferation of new stock watering points, in parts of the species' known range within South Australia, may potentially threaten the species (Pedler 2008).

Monitoring of fauna falling into abandoned opal mining shafts by the South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resource Management Board has also detected this species (Pedler 2009). Abandoned shafts produced by opal prospecting closely resemble conventional pitfall traps used in small vertebrate trapping, but are permanently open and may be up to 20 metres deep. In appropriate Bronzeback Snake-lizard habitat surrounding Coober Pedy, there are between 1–2 million of these abandoned shafts left uncapped. Preliminary data on the impact of these shafts has been gathered by installing bucket traps inside them to collect all fauna that may fall in. Captures from 35 shafts over six months yielded 14 species including two Bronzeback Snake-Lizards (Pedler 2009). This preliminary data suggests that opal mining may present a significant threat to the species in certain parts of its range.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Grazing pressures and associated habitat changes Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat alteration (vegetation, soil, hydrology) due to trampling and grazing by livestock Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat modification, destruction and alteration due to changes in land use patterns Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Habitat deterioration due to soil degradation and erosion Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation Oryctolagus cuniculus (Rabbit, European Rabbit) Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Dams and Water Management/Use:Alteration of hydrological regimes including flooding Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006qb) [Internet].

Brandle, R. (Ed.) (1998). A Biological Survey of the Stony Deserts, South Australia 1994-1997. Adelaide, South Australia: Department for Environment, Heritage & Aboriginal Affairs and National Parks Foundation of South Australia.

Cogger, H.G., E.E. Cameron, R.A. Sadlier & P. Eggler (1993). The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Available from:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011m). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 . [Online]. Canberra, ACT: DSEWPaC. Available from:

Ehmann, H. (1992). The apparent severe decline of the Bronzeback Legless Lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus) at Abminga. Herpetofauna. 22 (1):31-33.

Ehmann, H. (2001). Unpublished data. University of Adelaide.

Ehmann, H.F.W. (1981). The natural history and conservation of the bronzeback (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus Lucas and Frost) (Lacertilia, Pygopodidae). In: Banks, B.B. & A.A. Martin, eds. Proceedings of the Melbourne Herpetological Symposium, 1980. Page(s) 7-13. Melbourne: Zoological Board of Victoria.

Matejcic, P. (2003). South Australian Herpetology Group: Ophidiocephalus taeniatus Bronzeback Legless Lizxard Survey, 29th September to 10th October 2002. South Australian Herpetology Group Newsletter. Page(s) 120.

McDonald, P. & G. Fyfe (2008). A survey for the Bronzeback Snake-lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus), New Crown and Umbeara Pastoral Leases, Northern Territory. Unpublished Report. Northern Territory Government.

Pedler, R.D. (2008). Bronzeback Legless Lizard and Floodplains Skink survey, Coober Pedy - Oodnadatta area, October 2007. Unpublished report. South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board.

Pedler, R.D. (2009). Unpublished Data - Coober Pedy Community Opal Shaft Fauna Monitoring Project, administered by the South Australian Arid Lands NRM Board.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Ophidiocephalus taeniatus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:03:29 +1000.