Well, It Looks Like a Snake to Me!

The Bakersfield legless lizard, (Anniella grinnelli), which today ranges from downtown Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley to the Carrizo Plain National Monument 30 miles to the west. The species has a purple belly and yellow sides. Photo by Alex Krohn.

Four new species of ‘legless lizards’ discovered living on the edge

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations | September 17, 2013


California biologists have discovered four new species of reclusive legless lizards living in some of the most marginal habitat in the state: 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.

“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” said 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. The discoveries raise the number of California legless lizard species from one to five.

legless lizard

Legless lizards like this purple-bellied A. grinnelli lost their legs millions of years ago in order to burrow more quickly into loose soil and sand. These lizards differ from snakes in having eyelids, ear openings and a detachable tail. Photo by James Parham, CSU-Fullerton.

The herpetologists named the new snake-like lizards after four legendary UC Berkeley scientists: museum founderJoseph 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.

“These are animals that have existed in the San Joaquin Valley, separate from any other species, for millions of years, completely unknown,” said Parham, who obtained his doctorate from Berkeley and is now curator of paleontology at the John D. Cooper Archaeology and Paleontology Center. “If you want to preserve biodiversity, it is the really distinct species like these that you want to preserve.”

Papenfuss and Parham reported their discovery on Sept. 17 in the journal Breviora, a publication of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Legless lizards, represented by more than 200 species worldwide, are well-adapted to life in loose soil, Papenfuss said. Millions of years ago, lizards on five continents independently lost their limbs in order to burrow more quickly into sand or soil, wriggling like snakes. Some still have vestigial legs. Though up to eight inches in length, the creatures are seldom seen because they live mostly underground, eating insects and larvae, and may spend their lives within an area the size of a dining table. Most are discovered in moist areas when people overturn logs or rocks.

Herping the Central Valley

For the past 15 years, Papenfuss and Parham have scoured the state for new species, suspecting that the fairly common California legless lizard (Anniella pulchra), the only legless lizard in the U.S. West, had at least some relatives. They discovered one new species – yellow-bellied like its common cousin – under leaf litter in protected dunes west of Los Angeles International Airport. They named that species A. stebbinsi, because Stebbins grew up and developed an early interest in natural history in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains.

San Joaquin populations

Three of the four new legless lizard species hail from the southern San Joaquin Valley.A. alexanderae is a silver-bellied species discovered near Fellows, in the oil fields around the city of Taft. The yellow-belliedA. campi occurs in three isolated arid canyons on the edge of the Mojave Desert just below and east of Walker Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The purple-bellied A. grinnelli was found in three vacant lots in downtown Bakersfield, though only one of those lots remains: the others have been bulldozed and developed.

Because many sandy, loamy areas, including dunes and desert areas, offer little cover for lizards if they emerge, Papenfuss distributed thousands of pieces of cardboard throughout the state in areas likely to host the lizard. He returned year after year to see if lizards were using the moist, cool areas under the cardboard as resting or hunting grounds.

This technique turned up three other new species in the Central Valley (see sidebar): A. alexanderae, named after Annie Alexander, who endowed the UC Berkeley museum in 1908 and added 20,000 specimens to its collections; A. campi after Charles Camp, because of his early-career discovery of the Mt. Lyell salamander in the Sierra; and A. grinnelli after Joseph Grinnell, who in 1912 first noted habitat destruction around Bakersfield from agriculture and oil drilling.

Interestingly, all these species had been collected before and were in collections around California, but when preserved in alcohol, the lizards lose their distinctive color and look identical. Papenfuss and Parham identified the species through genetic profiling, but they subsequently found ways to distinguish them from one another via belly color, number and arrangement of scales, and number of vertebrae. However, two species – the previously known common legless lizard of Northern California and the newly named southern species found at LAX and apparently broadly distributed south of the Tehachapi Mountains – remain indistinguishable except by genetic tests or, now, the location where they are found.

Species of special concern

Papenfuss and Parham are working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to determine whether the lizards need protected status. Currently, the common legless lizard is listed by the state as a species of special concern.

map showing distribution of legless lizards in California

Distribution of the five species of legless lizard in California. A. pulchra was already known from a wide range in the central part of the state, but four others are newly described by UC Berkeley & Cal State-Fullerton herpetologists. Courtesy of Breviora.

“These species definitely warrant attention, but we need to do a lot more surveys in California before we can know whether they need higher listing,” Parham said.

Papenfuss noted that two of the species are within the range of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, which is listed as an endangered species by both the federal and state governments.

“On one hand, there are fewer legless lizards than leopard lizards, so maybe these two new species should be given special protection,” he said. “On the other hand, there may be ways to protect their habitat without establishing legal status. They don’t need a lot of habitat, so as long as we have some protected sites, they are probably OK.”

Papenfuss says they are not yet in danger of going extinct, since he has found some of the lizards in protected reserves operated by the CDFW, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and a private water reserve outside Bakersfield, in addition to the El Segundo Dunes near LAX.


Meeting of the Twins

The crew of Shirra and Stafford (both USNA grads, although Stafford took a commission in USAF) are shown in the attached photo flashing Gemini 7, crewed by Jim Lovell (USNA)  and Frank Borman (USMA) on their approach in '65-shortly after the Army-Navy game. (Played that year to a 7-7 tie.)  Obviously, Borman was outnumbered.

What A Man Did With This Tree Trunk Will Blow Your Mind

What A Man Did With This Tree Trunk Will Blow Your Mind. Whatever You’re Thinking…It’s Better.

November 20, 2013 In the News

One tree, four years of work and an indescribable amount of talent: that’s what it took to create this incredible masterpiece. A famous Chinese wood carver chopped down a single tree and tirelessly worked on it for over four years to make this piece. 


It all started out with a simple tree…


Then Zheng Chunhui, a famous wood carver, spent over

four years creating this masterpiece.



The carving is based on the famous Chinese painting

“Along the River During the Qingming Festival.”

The original artwork was created over 1,000 years ago.


The piece won the Guinness World Record for the longest

wooden carving and measures over 40ft (specifically, it is

12.286 meters long, is 3.075 meters tall at it highest point,

and is also 2.401 meters wide).


The intricate carvings of daily life in ancient China are so

detailed and perfect, they could drop your jaw.


It’s no surprise that this incredible work of art is drawing

so much attention. It’s amazing, but not just because it’s

so big, but also because it’s so incredibly detailed.

Dildos and Same-Sex Marriage

Arguments for the Oxford Comma


This description, published in The Times, of a documentary by Peter Ustinov:
"... highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."
And another:

“Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set.”