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'Legless lizard' discovered nesting around Los Angeles International Airport

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There is nothing new under the sun - or is there? Near the sand dunes of Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, scientists have discovered four new species of legless lizards in California. We know what you're thinking - they're not snakes, scientists claim. Not all legless lizards are snakes.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Several lizard lineages have lost their legs in the course of evolution, James Parham of Cal State Fullerton says. While snakes are the best-known and most diverse of these lineages, more than 200 other types of limbless lizards exist globally.

A total of five legless lizard species have been identified in California, all of them part of a group called Anniella. Four of these legless lizards are new to science, and were recently described in the journal Breviora, a publication of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

How do they Anniella differ from snakes? "Anniella can blink at you, but snakes can't because they don't have eyelids," Parham, one of the authors of the paper says. The Anniella also don't shed their skin in one piece like snakes do, and they move differently.

"Snakes can coil up a lot more, and they are more slithery," Parham said. "Anniella tend to be more rigid."

Arguably cuter than snakes, the above photo should speak for itself.

Relatively small animals, Anniealla are about as thick as a pencil and rarely more than eight inches long. They spend their lives wiggling beneath loose, sandy soil, snacking on bugs and larvae.

Understandably, Anniealla don't move fast or far, and the researchers say they may spend their whole lives in an area about the size of your dining room table.

Scientists still don't know much about them. "They are one of the most poorly studied reptiles in California," Parham said. "Because they live under the sand, you can't see what they are doing, and you can't even do a mark-and-recapture because you can't reliably capture these things."

Parham and his coauthor Theodore Papenfuss, a herpetologist with the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, have been scouring the state for legless lizards for 15 years. Only one type of legless lizard was known to live in California when they began their research.

One of the four newly identified species of Anniella, the Southern California legless lizard, was found under some dead leaves in dunes at the west end of Los Angeles International Airport. The Bakersfield legless lizard was found in three vacant lots in downtown Bakersfield.

The southern Sierra legless lizard was spotted in three dry canyons on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and the Temblor legless lizard was found in the oil fields around the city of Taft, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

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