Four New Legless Lizard Species Found In California

California biologists found four new species of legless lizards in remote corners of the state, including at the end of a runway at LAX, as described in a paper published Monday in the journal Breviora.

“These are animals that have existed in the San Joaquin Valley, separate from any other species, for millions of years, completely unknown,” said James Parham of California State University, Fullerton, who discovered the lizards with Theodore Papenfuss, a reptile and amphibian expert with UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, according to a UC Berkley press release.

The new lizards were all found in fringe habitats with sandy soil, including an LAX runway, a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, on the margins of the Mojave desert, and among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley, according to the release. 

Despite looking exceedingly similar, the legless lizard and the snake don’t share a common ancestry, according to a fossil found in Germany in 2011. Until then, the more than 200 legless lizard species were thought to be closely related to the snake, but the fossil determined the two took very separate evolutionary paths to arrive at their serpentine form, the Scientific American reported. 

Lizards on five continents lost their limbs millions of years ago to improve burrowing ability, according to the Berkley release, and some still have vestigal legs.

Photo: The Bakersfield legless lizard, (Anniella grinnelli), which today ranges from downtown Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley to the Carrizo Plain National Monument 30 miles to the west. The species has a purple belly and yellow sides. Photo by Alex Krohn.

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Zoë Schlanger is Frontpage Editor at TPM. Zoë was a TPM intern in 2011, and prior to returning here she was editor in chief of NYU Local, the alternative independent student news site at NYU. Zoë has interned at places like the Nation, InsideClimate News, The Rachel Maddow Show and Gothamist. She can be reached at zoe@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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