Four New Species Of Legless Lizards Discovered In California
September 24, 2013

Four New Species Of Legless Lizards Discovered In California

All over the world, there are tens of thousands of undiscovered species of animals, especially in unexplored regions of the rain forests. But, right here in the United States, discovering new species is rare. So, encountering a new animal is one for the record book, so to speak. That’s why a discovery in California was such an awesome find.

In California, four new species of legless lizards were discovered. One has been found in Los Angeles at the end of one of the busiest airport’s runway. They inhabit the dunes just west of the Los Angeles International Airport. It has a yellow belly and was named Anniella stebbinsi.

These lizards look similar to a snake, and were discovered by Theodore Papenfuss. He is a herpetologist with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California and a geologist that assisted him with the discovery was James Parham from California State University, Fullerton.

The difference between the legless lizard and a snake is that the lizard has eyelids and will blink, whereas a snake lacks eyelids so it doesn’t blink.

The two also reported that they found three more new species of legless lizards in the oil fields of San Joaquin Valley, on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in an abandoned lot in downtown Bakersfield.

The lizards found near the oil field have a silver belly and are named Anniella alexanderae. The yellow-bellied lizards, named Anniella campi, were found near the Mojave Desert. The purple-bellied lizards, named Anniella grinnelli, were found in the abandoned lots in Bakersfield.

“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” Papenfuss said in a statement.

The two found these lizards by placing thousands of pieces of cardboard in various locations in central and southern California. They then periodically checked the sites. Although, there are over 200 species of legless lizards worldwide, prior to this discovery, there was only one known species of legless lizard in the United States.

A description of these lizards was published on September 17 in the journal Breviora.

Papenfuss and Parham had spent the last 15 years searching the state of California in hopes of finding a relative to United States’ only known legless lizard named Anniella pulchra. When they discovered these new lizard species, they used color patterns, scale and vertebrate arrangement along with genetic testing for identification.

Actually, these four species have been previously collected and are in museums and laboratories, but were thought to be the same species as the Anniella pulchra, so their genetic makeup and distinct markings were never examined. They were stored in alcohol, so their coloring has vanished. Genetic testing was performed and, in fact, they are the same species as what was recently found in California.

Finding these lizards is difficult; they burrow themselves into loose soil and spend their entire life in a small area. The lizard found at the airport was under leafs. The other three species were found under the scattered cardboard that the two men spread in the different areas.

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