Striped tailed delma (Delma labialis)

GenusDelma (1)
SizeTotal length: 10 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 cm (3)

The striped tailed delma is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Although it is snake-like in appearance, with a long slender body and no eyelids, the striped tailed delma (Delma labialis) is actually a legless lizard. It has typical lizard features in its external ear holes and non-forked tongue, but it possesses no forelimbs and its hindlimbs are reduced to mere flaps (4).

The striped tailed delma is predominantly reddish-brown or grey-brown on the upperparts, with a cream throat, belly and underside. The lips, neck and side of the head are patterned with alternating cream and yellowish-brown vertical bars (5). This endangered reptile gets its common name from the narrow, dark stripes that run along the length of the tail, which measures around four times the length of the body (3).

The striped tailed delma is endemic to Queensland in north-east Australia. Its range extends from Townsville, south to the Whitsunday Islands (1). The majority of individuals occur in the ‘Brigalow Belt’ (1), the name given to strip of Acacia wooded grassland that runs from Townsville south to northern New South Wales (6).

On the mainland, the striped tailed delma is found predominantly in tall open forests or open woodland with a grassy understory, where brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) is the dominant tree. On islands and in coastal areas, this species is found in wet sclerophyll forest, a habitat consisting of short hard-leafed plants such as eucalyptus. On Magnetic Island, populations of the striped tailed delma have also been recorded in open woodland near beaches (7).

Little is known about the biology of the secretive striped tailed delma. It is active during the day, but is an extremely wary species, venturing out into the open only briefly. It shelters under leaf litter, logs and other objects on the forest floor, with its cryptic colouration providing camouflage (2) (8).

Although little is known about the diet of the striped tailed delma, other species of the Pygopod family (the Pygopodidae) are insectivorous, feeding on a variety of caterpillars, crickets and invertebrates such as spiders (4) (8).

The striped tailed delma typically lays a clutch of two eggs, which hatch after around 70 days (2) (8).

The region inhabited by the striped tailed delma has long been subject to the activities of humans, which have degraded and destroyed this species’ habitat. Large areas of the Brigalow Belt have already been cleared for agriculture, and the remaining habitat remains under pressure from overgrazing and further clearance for urbanisation (1) (9). In addition, the removal of woody debris and rocks, as part of land management, removes potential shelters for the striped tailed delma (2) (7) (10).

Inappropriate fire regimes are also impacting this species. Occasional fires are a natural part of the Brigalow Belt ecosystem, and a factor that the native animals and plants have evolved alonside. Changes in the frequency, intensity or timing of fires, bought about by human management, are often not suitable for the native biodiversity (2) (7) (10).

Furthermore, the islands inhabited by the striped tailed delma, particularly Magnetic Island, are popular destinations for tourists, who cause frequent disturbance(9).

The striped tailed delma is protected by law in Australia (1), but there are currently no other conservation measures known to be in place for this elusive reptile.

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  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
  2. Queensland Government – Striped-tailed Delma (February, 2011)
  3. WWF-Australia (2008) Striped-tailed Delma Fact Sheet. WWF-Australia, Brisbane. Available at:
  4. Cogger, H.G. and Zweifel, R.G. (Eds.) (1998) Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Academic Press, San Diego.
  5. Cogger, H.G. (2000) Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Sixth Edition. Reed New Holland Pty Ltd, Sydney.
  6. Australian Government – Brigalow Belt Forests in Queensland (February, 2011)
  7. Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2008) Approved Conservation Advice for Delma labialis (Striped-tailed Delma). Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at:
  8. Shea, G.M. (1987) Two new species of Delma (Lacertilia: Pygopodidae) from northeastern Queensland and a note on the status of the genus AclysProceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales109(3): 203-212.
  9. Cogger, H.G., Cameron, E.E., Sadlier, R.A. and Eggler, P. (1993) The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
  10. Richardson, R. (2006) Queensland Brigalow Belt Reptile Recovery Plan 2008 – 2012. Report to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. WWF-Australia, Brisbane.