Did you know some lizards can be legless?

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Did you know some lizards can be legless? There are over 200 species of legless lizards worldwide.  Fossil records suggest millions of years ago species of lizards all over the world independently lost their limbs in order to burrow more quickly into sand or soil. Burrowing increased the ability of finding food and better protected the lizards from above ground predators. These wriggling lizards have the body appearance of snakes, but their head resembles that of a lizard with eyelids and external ear openings. Many are small in size, up to eight inches in length, and are seldom seen as they live mostly underground, eating insects and larvae. They also have a small habitat range, living underground in an area the size of a dining table, and are often only discovered by accident by people overturn logs or rocks.

This year biologists in California were surprised to discovered new species living in some of the most marginal habitat in the state. Four new species of legless lizards were found in a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, in the degraded habitats of oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley, the margins of the Mojave desert, and at the end of one of the runways at LAX. This discovery raises the number of California legless lizard species from one to five.

“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” said Theodore Papenfuss, discover of the species and a reptile and amphibian expert at UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Surprisingly, the four legless lizards have been collected before, preserved in alcohol in collections throughout California. However, lizards collected lost their distinctive colours when preserved, making them look identical to previously known species. Genetic profiling was able to differentiate the species leading to this new discovery and increasing California’s biodiversity!

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Journal Reference:

Theodore J. Papenfuss, James F. Parham. Four New Species of California Legless Lizards (Anniella). Breviora, 2013; 536: 1 DOI: 10.3099/MCZ10.1