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Animal Welfare

Weird, Legless Lizard Discovered Near LAX

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Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:45 PM

click to enlarge THE LEGLESS LIZARD VIA CAL STATE FULLERTON.
  • The legless lizard via Cal State Fullerton.
The area around LAX is so developed that one neighborhood, Surfridge, has even come and gone.

But that didn't stop a Cal State Fullerton geological sciences professor from discovering a whole new species of lizard there. The pencil-like, 8- to 10-inch creature calls the sand dunes west of the airport home. She's one of four new worm-like reptiles discovered by James Parham and UC Berkeley's Theodore J. Papenfuss:

The snake-like lizards live under "loose soil and sand" near LAX and in the San Joaquin Valley, the eastern Sierra Nevada and the Bay Area, according to Cal State Fullerton.

Only one species of legless lizard was believed to exist before the discoveries, the university says. A paper on the new lizards was just published in the Harvard journal Breviora.

The four were named for noted California natural historians, a Cal State Fullerton statement says:

Anniella alexanderae for Annie Montague Alexander (1867-1950); Anniella campi for Charles Lewis Camp (1893-1974); Anniella grinnelli for Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939); and Anniella stebbinsi for Robert Cyril Stebbins, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of zoology and curator emeritus in herpetology of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

We called Parham to find out which one was the LAX lizard but had yet to hear back.

The prof says the lizards live in habitats that are obviously threatened by development and urbanization (not to mention the weekend partiers at Dockweiler State Beach).

They've already been deemed "species of special concern" by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

click to enlarge PARHAM VIA CAL STATE FULLERTON.
  • Parham via Cal State Fullerton.

Parham says the lizards probably developed their shape and lack of legs by burrowing in the sand. These four types of related creatures, however, "have been separated from each other for millions of years."

And yet they're all legless, small and scaley. Sort of like the Hollywood talent agent. The prof states:

This is an exciting discovery to science. This is the first time that so many new species of lizards have been described from California at one time, making this an unprecedented herpetological discovery for the state. These discoveries illustrate how new species can still be discovered, despite being found in some heavily compromised urban areas.

[Added at 4:15 p.m.]: The prof got back to us. He says the Anniella stebbinsi lizard is the one you can find near LAX. Well, maybe if you're lucky:

Its habitat is already federally protected as part of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly Habitat Preserve, Parham told us.

The discovery was made after he and his colleagues set out to prove that the creature previously known as the California legless lizard, found from the Bay Area to Baja, was actually comprised of more than one species, divided by north and south.

The researchers proved that and then some.

Anniella stebbinsi is now also known as the Southern California legless lizard, Parham said.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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