By Mirembe Martina
Easily mistaken for snakes, four species of legless lizards have been discovered in California.
There was only one known legless lizard species in the United States, the California legless lizard but the new discovery adds four to the table. The creatures were found in a dune bordering a runway at Los Angeles International Airport; an empty lot in downtown Bakersfield, Calif.
“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” Theodore Papenfuss, a herpetologist at the University of California Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, said in a statement from the school. The lizards live their lives underground or near the surface, and often don’t leave an area the size of a small table, the statement noted. When they are found at the surface, it’s usually in moist areas under dead wood or logs — or cardboard.
To find the lizards, Papenfuss and James Parham, a researcher at California State University, Fullerton, placed thousands of slips of cardboard at various sites around central and Southern California. They then checked and rechecked the sites before finally finding the four new species. Three of the animals were found in the southern San Joaquin Valley. “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 the statement.
The species found near the oil fields has a silver belly and is named Anniella alexanderae. The yellow-bellied Anniella campi lives in three isolated dry canyons on the edge of the Mojave Desert, east of Walker Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The purple-bellied Anniella grinnelli was found in three vacant lots in Bakersfield. The fourth species, found outside the valley near the airport, is named Anniella stebbinsi.
The species were named after four UC Berkeley scientists: Museum of Vertebrate Zoology founder Joseph Grinnell, paleontologist Charles Camp, philanthropist and amateur scientist Annie Alexander and herpetologist Robert Stebbins.