New legless lizards species discovered in Los Angeles

Environment -

Researchers have discovered four species of previously unknown legless lizards in Southern California.

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Source: newscenter.berkeley.edu
Source: newscenter.berkeley.edu

The lizards were discovered by researchers Theodore Papenfuss, of UC Berkeley, and James Parham of Calif. State Univ.-Fullerton. The findings were published in the journal Breviora.

Unlike snakes, legless lizards have eyelids, external ear openings, and don't have wide belly scales. They typically live underground in a small space measured in a few square feet, eating insects and larvae.

"These are animals that have existed in the San Joaquin Valley, separate from any other species, for millions of years, completely unknown." James Parham of California State University, Fullerton

Researchers believe the finding underscores the biodiversity that is still undocumented in California.

The species include the yellow-bellied A. stebbinsi, the gray-bellied A. alexanderae, the purple-bellied A. grinnelli and the yellow-bellied A. campi. Their habitats are found in the dunes of Los Angeles Intl. Airport, the borders of the Mojave desert, a vacant lot in Bakersfield and oil derricks in the San Joaquin Valley.

The research has been a 14-year endeavor. According to the researchers, the species have previously been collected and preserved in jars of alcohol. However, because the alcohol discolored the lizards, researchers had to conduct genetic testing to determine whether they were previously unidentified.

While there are 200 species of legless lizards worldwide, the discovery brings the number of documented species of legless lizards in California to five.

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