Wednesday, October 30, 2013
by Corinna of TheFrogBag
Photos courtesy of Cal State, Fullerton
The Legless Lizards of LAX
It’s not uncommon to hear about the discovery of a new species. Tiny creatures with home ranges deep in the sea, in the crowns of rare trees, or high in snow-capped mountains regularly make the news. Most of these are bugs, lichen, or small fish discovered by patient researchers after years of hard work. It’s safe to say that none of them are found in major metropolitan areas near gigantic transit hubs. That is, until now, with the discovery of a new 8-inch long legless lizard inhabiting the sand dunes just west of Los Angeles International Airport.
The lizard was not completely unknown in California prior to the exciting announcement in the journal Breviora, but it was believed that only one species existed across the state. New research has shown that there are actually four distinct species inhabiting the San Joaquin Valley, the eastern Sierra Nevada, the Bay Area near San Francisco, and now, the area around LAX. The populations have been separate for millions of years, leading them each to become genetically unique. And it’s not likely that there was much traveling for the sake of romance once the groups split off, either. The pencil-sized animals are real homebodies, spending their entire lives in an area no bigger than a coffee table, wiggling through loose soil and dining on slow-moving larvae and other invertebrates.
Since the lizards inhabit such desirable property and are so rare, they have already been listed as “species of special concern” by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Luckily, the LAX variety (Anniella stebbinsi) has some habitat protection since its range overlaps with the federally protected El Segundo Blue Butterfly Habitat Preserve, so it is not in any immediate danger from development.
But isn’t a legless reptile a snake? Not always. For one thing, lizards can blink and snakes cannot, since the latter lack eyelids. Snakes shed in one big piece while lizards tend to flake off small areas. And snakes are just more, well, slithery. Legless lizards don’t really coil, preferring to remain rigid like their legged cousins. As to why any self-respecting animal would give up four perfectly good legs, the answer probably lies in the sandy areas the lizards call home. Legs and claws just get in the way when you’re nosing through the dirt, chasing down a snack or seeking a nesting site. All of which contributes to a lifestyle that seems to suit these lizards just fine, but makes studying them extremely challenging. Luckily James Parham and Theodore J. Papenfuss were up to the task, and their discovery of this “cute” (as Parham was quoted as calling them) creature has made the world a more interesting place.
Posted by Brizel Handcrafts on Wednesday, October 30, 2013