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Department of Planning and Natural Resources
Division of Fish and Wildlife
U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #07
Virgin Islands Blind Snake
The Virgin Islands blind snake, Amphisbaena
fenestrata, also called the worm lizard, are not
snakes. There are in fact more closely related to
lizards because they still have rudimentary shoulder
and pelvic girdles. Their legs may have
disappeared due to their subterranean life. They are
considered by many as legless lizards. There are a
couple species of the genus Amphisbaena found
with rudimentary front legs only. The Virgin
Islands blind snake does not have visible legs.
These animals are NOT poisonous.
The generic name Amphisbaena describes their
ability to move equally forward and backward, both
in the open and in their burrows. The name comes
from Greek "that which walks in two directions".
These reptiles have been placed in the order
Amphisbaenia which is separate from the Serpentes
(snakes) and Sauria (lizards), and may be distantly
related to the Teiids (tegus, whiptails, ameivas,
Globally there are about 120 blind snake species
of the family Amphisbaenidae. They are found in
tropical and subtropical regions of America, Africa
and the Mediterranean. There is only one genus of
Amphisbaenidae present in the Caribbean
(Amphisbaena) with about 18 different species.
Puerto Rico and its nearshore islands have 4 known
species. The U.S. Virgin Islands has only one
known species of blind snake. However the St.
Croix blind snake may be a separate species from
the one on St. John and St. Thomas.
Amphisbaenas in other locations can grow up to
60 cm (2 feet) long. The Virgin Islands blind snake
rarely gets any larger than 15 cm (6 inches). They
have adapted to a subterranean life by evolving
reduced eyes, small heavy solid skulls and jaws that
are partly fused together. Amphisbaens use their
heads as shovels for burrowing through detritus and
soil, tunneling under rocks, roots and fallen logs.
They are rarely found above ground, and then only
at night or after rains have flooded their burrows.
Blind snakes are very sensitive to terrestrial
vibrations and have an excellent sense of smell.
Amphisbaens are small but fierce predators
capable of biting off pieces of flesh from larger
animals. They have also been seen occasionally
eating carrion. Many don't hesitate to bite when
handled. Their teeth are sharp and their jaw muscles
are disproportionately strong. Only the largest
species can inflict any serious pain to a human
hand. There is nothing to fear from the VI Blind
Snake. It is much too small to inflict any damage
Distribution & Habitat
VI blind snakes may be found throughout the
Virgin Islands. On St. Thomas they are fairly
common in moist areas. They have occasionally
been seen on cement walkways and streets. They
are commonly confused with worms and may be
more common than the average gardener is aware.
In contrast to most other lizards, the VI blind
snake doesn't feed on large prey. They feed mostly
on pupae, larvae, eggs, and adults of a variety of
insects. They are also believed to prey upon the VI
worm snake. Many worm snakes have been found
with scars on the body that appear to have come
from blind snakes.
With their elongated but stout bodies
surrounded by rings of squarish scales, their
inconspicuous eyes, and their usually gray, cream,
or pink colors, these strange reptiles resemble fat
earthworms. These are frequently confused with
the worm snakes (Typhlopidae).
The blind snake lays soft shelled eggs like other
reptiles. They are likely to deposit their eggs in
protected areas, where the young will hatch and
quickly be able to find food. The reproduction of
the VI blind snake has not been studied. So we do
not know the length of time it takes for the eggs to
hatch, or the numbers of eggs laid. The
reproductive biology of the VI blind snake is
Status in the VI
The ecology and general biology of blind snakes
in the U.S. Virgin Islands is also unknown. The
little we do know is from anecdotal evidence
collected by individuals over the years. What we do
know is that they are not very abundant because
very few people have seen them. Those who have
are mainly gardeners and farmers or others who
spend time working with soil. There appear to be
areas on the islands where the blind snakes are more
common than others. These are more rural
locations, were people have worked the land,
particularly by hand.
They may also be seen by homeowners with
cats. The cats may bring these snakes into the
house. Blind snakes are frequently confused with
earthworms because they are similarly shaped and
Because of the behavior and external
morphology of Amphisbaen (it looks like both ends
are heads), myths were created about them. The
Greeks considered the amphisbaen a serpent with
two heads and glowing eyes. Other myths about
* if cut in half, both halves will rejoin.
* If the heads hold each other, the amphisbaena
can roll along like a hoop.
Wearing a live amphisbaena is said to help in
Wearing a dead one will help rheumatism.
NONE OF THESE ARE TRUE!
What you can do to HELP
1. The blind snake is very valuable to us. They eat
invertebrates and other insects that we consider
2. Reducing the amount of pesticides and
chemicals we use to control pests will help the
3. Please, if possible let them take care of
themselves. They have been doing their job for
millions of years, and are a great benefit to us.
4. Remember it is illegal to take, catch, possess,
injure, harass, or kill any indigenous species.
The only exceptions are for people holding valid
permits from the Division of Fish and Wildlife
5. For more information on this and other animals
in the Virgin Islands please visit out website at:
Written by William Coles 2003.
THIS PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED WITH
FUNDS FROM THE WILDLIFE
CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON
OUR NATIVE ANIMALS CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227