Legless lizard Marcella joins NPDC's Brooklands Zoo

20 May 2019

Is it a snake?  Guess again.

The latest species to join NPDC’s Brooklands Zoo is actually a scheltopusik, also known as a European legless lizard.

Marcella, a female scheltopusik, has come from Wellington Zoo and will be meeting the public at her habitat next to the barn building this weekend.

While she looks like a snake, Marcella has two very tiny stubs of legs at the base of her tail.

And unlike a snake, she also has eyelids and earholes.

Marcella is the second new species to make a home at Brooklands Zoo this year, after the successful introduction of two red-rumped agouti, large South American rodents, in February.

Marcella will join our other animals to teach the kids about the awesome wonders of nature and add to the attraction of NPDC’s Brooklands Zoo as a great day out for all the family, said NPDC External Relations Manager Jacqueline Baker.

“As well as keeping Marcella properly fed and housed, NPDC zookeepers do an amazing job of enriching the lives of all our animals through activities and changes to their habitats.  This keeps them mentally and physically healthy,” says Ms Baker.

“Scheltopusik usually eat insects, but the keepers have discovered Marcella likes her vegies, especially mashed up fresh peas.”

Marcella’s parents came from Amsterdam to Wellington Zoo, where she was found as an egg in November 2017. She hatched on 22 January last year.

Scheltopusik factfile:

  • Scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus) are native from mainland Europe through to Central Asia and their name comes from the Russian for “yellow belly”. 
  • They are solitary and live in scrubby vegetation, rocky outcrops and sparse woodland.
  • They like a dry climate but will come after the rain to hunt for snails and slugs. Their main diet is insects but they also eat eggs, very small mammals and birds.
  • They can grow from about 15cm long when they hatch up to 1.35 metres in length as adults.  
  • Females lay eggs and when they hatch after around 50 days.
  • Scheltopusik have a unique lateral groove that runs down each side of its body. 
  • Like other lizards it has the ability to shed its tail if under threat, but it prefers to twist, hiss and bite to defend itself.     

Brooklands Zoo factfile:

  • Brooklands Zoo opened in 1965.
  • The zoo is open seven days a week and is visited by about 113,000 people each year.
  • It’s home to a diverse range of species from farm animals, reptiles and amphibians to meerkats, Bolivian squirrel monkeys, cotton-top tamarins and capuchins. 
  • The zoo has a walk-through aviary.
  • It takes part in managed animal breeding programmes for many of the species at the zoo including the cotton-top tamarins and capuchin monkeys.
  • It has a Wildlife Act Authority permit from DOC to help with rehabilitating injured wild birds.
Scheltopusik Brooklands Zoo May 2019