Scientists uncover 4 new legless lizards in California

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

legless lizard
Scientists have discovered 4 new species of legless lizards, one of which slithered through the LAX airport! Others were found in downtown Bakersfield, southern San Joaquin Valley, and 30 miles west of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Pretend you’re walking around the Los Angeles International (LAX) airport terminal when you spot a reptile slithering around. It has no arms, no legs, and smooth scaly skin, so it appears to be a scary snake! Others in the terminal notice it too, and they immediately start to freak out. If this ever does happen, there’s no need to worry, because it’s probably 1 of the 4 legless lizard species recently discovered in California.

Ummm… by “legless lizards,” I assume they mean snakes right? Sort of. The thing is, legless lizards are distantly related to snakes. Somewhere along the evolutionary ladder, the two species descended from a single “parent” lizard. However, while one branch of the reptiles changed into the serpents we know today, the other eventually transformed into lizards….just without any legs.

Previously, there was only one known species of legless lizard in California – the Anniella pulchra  – so adding 4 more to the family is like an overcrowded reunion! Hey… wait a second. Discovering that amount of new species at once seems too good to be true. Legless lizards look just like serpents, so how are the researchers sure they didn’t just find a bunch of snakes?

James Parham, a geologist from the California State University of Fullerton who made the discovery, explains the differences. “Anniella can blink at you, but snakes can’t because they don’t have eyelids,” he points out. “They 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. Anniella tend to be more rigid.” Well, the differences seem kind of obvious now that we know what to look for, huh?

Featured image courtesy of James Parham and CSU-Fullerton. Image of legless lizard courtesy of UC Berkeley and Alex Krohn.