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New species of legless lizard discovered at LAX

Four previously unknown species of snakelike creatures known as legless lizards were discovered at several different sites in California, including a sand dune near LAX.
Legless lizard 2013 09 19Enlarge
This yellow-bellied legless lizard is among four new species of the reptiles discovered in California. (Alex Krohn/Courtesy)

Four new species of legless lizards (no, not snakes) have been discovered in California.

And they were living in some pretty random, inhospitable places: a sand dune bordering a runway at Los Angeles International Airport, a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley and the margins of the Mojave Desert.

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Previously, there was only one known legless lizard species in the Golden State.

The discoveries were announced by scientists at the University of California-Berkeley in a study published Thursday in the latest issue of Brevoria.

“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” said Theodore Papenfuss, a reptile and amphibian expert with Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

So, what exactly is a legless lizard? And how does it differ from a snake?

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While both species are reptiles, many legless lizards have external ear openings and movable eyelids.

They also typically spend their entire life underground, unlike snakes.

Legless lizards can grow up to 8 inches long and feast on a diet of insects and larvae.

The researchers are now working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine whether the new species of lizards need protected status.