Legless Lizards Discovered Living Along LA Airport Runway

Thursday, 19 Sep 2013 09:53 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A species of legless lizards has been discovered living beneath the sand dunes of the busy Los Angeles International Airport, but are they rare enough to stop the airplanes? Scientists are wondering if they deserve protected status.

The reclusive, newly discovered species of reptile, which at first glance appears more snake than lizard, has been spotted making a home at the end of a runway at the always bustling LAX to the surprise of the scientists who found them, the Discovery Channel reported.

The same team of scientists also claimed to have discovered three additional new legless lizard species in places generally considered inhospitable to wildlife, including a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, Calif., among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley, Calif., and on the margins of the Mojave desert, notes Discovery News.

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The discovery was made by Theodore Papenfuss, an amphibian and reptile expert at Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, along with California State University Assistant Professor James Parham. The findings were published in the September edition of Harvard University's Breviora – a publication from the school's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

"These are animals that have existed in the San Joaquin Valley, separate from any other species, for millions of years, completely unknown," Parham said in a press release.

"This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California," Papenfuss added.

Throughout the lizard's evolution, various species independently lost limbs forcing them to move around on their bellies.

They are distinguishable from snakes by having a lack of broad belly scales, a very long tail, whereas snakes have a long body and a short tail, and having eyelids and external ear openings, which snakes do not have.

There are reportedly more than 200 types of limbless lizards that exist throughout the world, some of which still have vestigial legs.

The legless lizards are rarely seen and primarily live underground where they live-off insects and larvae.

According to Discovery news, the reclusive species primarily resides in moist areas and are usually only found when someone turns over a rock or log.

Papenfuss and Parham are currently working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to determine if the recently discovered species' of legless lizards require protected status, considering the state presently lists it as a species of special concern.

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"These species definitely warrant attention," Parham said, "but we need to do a lot more surveys in California before we can know whether they need higher listing."

Related stories:

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Jim Morrison Lizard: Extinct Prehistoric Species Named After Doors Rocker

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