Four New Species of Legless Lizards Discovered in California

Posted on September 18, 2013

Anniella grinnelli legless lizard


Four new species of legless lizards have been discovered in California by California biologists. The creatures were found in the following locations: a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley, on the margins of the Mojave desert, and at the end of one of the runways at LAX. The discoveries raise the number of California legless lizard species from one to five. There are 200 known species worldwide. Anniella grinnelli, one of the four new species, is pictured above.

The herpetologists named the new snake-like lizards after four scientists from UC Berkeley: museum founder Joseph Grinnell, paleontologist Charles Camp, philanthropist and amateur scientist Annie Alexander and herpetologist Robert C. Stebbins, at 98 the only one of the group still alive.

Theodore Papenfuss, a reptile and amphibian expert, or herpetologist, with UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, who discovered and identified the new species with James Parham of California State University, Fullerton, said in the announcement, "This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California."

The legless lizards can reach up to eight inches in length, but are rarely seen because they spend most of their lives underground. They consume insects and larvae. The biologists say the creatures may spend their entire lives within an area the size of a dining table.

Papenfuss and Parham reported their discovery this month in the journal Breviora, a publication of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Photo: Alex Krohn