Range:Eastern Europe from the Balkans as far as Ishia and northeast Bulgaria. Also found in the Crimea, Caucasus, and parts of southwest and central Asia.
Habitat:Burrowing animals, they are found in temperate climates in dry habitats, rocky hillsides with some cover, and dry stone walls, embankments and stone piles.
Diet: Wild: Insects, snails, mice, bird eggs, baby birds. Captivity: Crickets, mealworms, young mice.
Description: The largest lizard of its family, the average length of the sheltopusik is 2-3 ft, with the longest recorded being 4 ft. The tail makes up about two-thirds of its body. Weight is between 1 and 1½ lbs. Although legless lizards may look like snakes, they are true lizards, with external ears, movable eyelids and the scales on their belly and back are the same size. They are firm in the body, rather than the softly supple body associated with snakes. There are two tiny hind limb stumps by the cloacal opening. They are equipped with powerful jaws and broad and blunt teeth. The adults are rather plainly colored, primarily shades of brown or green. Juveniles have more contrasting markings.
Lifespan: Wild: 17-18 years. Captivity: Longer.
Reproduction:Mating usually occurs June-August. Incubation is 6 weeks to 2 months with a clutch size of 6-12 eggs. Females reach sexual maturity at age 2-3. During breeding season they find a damp spot where they deposit soft-shelled eggs. The females usually guard their eggs during the incubation period, but abandon the young once they are hatched. The young measure 3-6” long.
Behavior: A diurnal predator, often active after rainfall. Like many lizards, it is capable of dropping its tail. The ability to regenerate depends on where the break occurs. If it is broken at a modified vertebrate, the tail can be regenerated. It is otherwise not so easily regenerated. The sheltopusik is a good swimmer. Lateral folds along the sides may aid in breathing, sensing food, expansion when eating, to allow for eggs in the female, and feeling sound waves through the soil.
Our animals: Shellie, captive born in June 2001, donated to PPZ in December 2001.