New Species of Legless Lizard Found at LAX
Blue Testicled Monkey
The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University announced its list of the top 10 species officially described in 2012. The publication of the list marks the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, founder of the modern system of species classification.
Male lesula monkeys (Cerocopithecus lomamiensis) have bald, brilliant blue testicles, buttocks and perineum. Locals in the Congo regularly hunt the monkey for food, but primatologists didn’t catch their first glimpse of the shy mammal until 2007. Lesulas are only the second monkeys to be discovered in Africa in 28 years.
This snake’s scientific name, Sibon noalamina, has a green goal. “No a la mina” means “no to the mine” in Spanish. In the snake’s native range in western Panama, mining threatens to destroy sensitive highland rainforests. The no-to-the-mine snake doesn’t pack a venomous bite, but its coloration may mimic the deadly coral snake.
A carnivorous sponge?! In truth the lyre sponge (Chondrocladia lyra) uses its harp-shaped arms to capture plankton floating in the deep waters off the coast of California.
Hugh H. Iltis (for puna habitat), Harvey Ballard (for plant)
The diminutive Lilliputian violet (Viola lilliputana) takes its name from the tiny race of people in Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver’s Travels." This shrunken violet grows to barely 1 centimeter tall and lives only on a high plateau in the Peruvian Andes.
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Tiniest Vertebrate Ever
The Lilliputian violet would make a nice bouquet for the newly crowned tiniest vertebrate on the planet, the frog Paedopphryne amanuensis. The itty-bitty amphibian averages 7.7 millimeters in adult length. The frog lives in moist leaf litter in the forest near the village of Amau, Papua New Guinea.
The emerald green shrub Eugenia petrikensis may go immediately from discovery to the endangered species list. The plant, which boasts magenta flowers, inhabits the fragmented coastal forest of Madagascar. The extremely bio-diverse forests also face massive pressure from expanding human settlement, farming and logging.
Illustration based on A3 size line-drawing/Peter Vrsansky 2012
Eugenia petrikensis may be endangered, but another species described in 2012 may already be extinct. The glowing roach Lucihormetica luckae was identified from a specimen collected 70 years ago. No others have been collected because a volcanic eruption demolished the glow-in-the-dark bug’s habitat.
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A black fungus (Ochroconis anomala) was discovered growing on the walls of the famous Ice Age paintings in Lascaux cave, France. The fungus defaced the ancient art and left a dark stain.
Hock Ping Guek
Social Media Buzz
This new species of lacewing (Semachrysa jade) was discovered after photographer Hock Ping Guek posted a photo of the bug to Flickr. Entomologist Shaun Winterton saw the photo and asked Guek to send him a specimen. The lacewing turned out to be unknown to science.
Ms. Chen Wang
A fossilized hangingfly (Juracimbrophlebia ginkofolia) was discovered hanging around with preserved leaves from a Jurassic Era tree. The insect had evolved to look like the leaves of the ancient ginko-like tree. Like its living relatives, the hangingfly likely evolved to blend in with the foliage so the predatory bug could get the drop on prey insects.
A bustling airport would hardly seem the place to find a new species of reclusive animal, but a team of California biologists recently found a shy new species of legless lizard living at the end of a runway at Los Angeles International Airport.
What’s more, the same team discovered three additional new species of these distinctive, snake-like lizards that are also living in some inhospitable-sounding places for wildlife: at a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley and on the margins of the Mojave desert.
All are described in the latest issue of Breviora, a publication of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.
“This shows that there is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California,” Theodore Papenfuss, one of the scientists, was quoted as saying in a press release.
Papenfuss, an amphibian and reptile expert at Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, made the discoveries with James Parham of California State University, Fullerton.
“These are animals that have existed in the San Joaquin Valley, separate from any other species, for millions of years, completely unknown,” Parham said.
Legless lizards look a lot like snakes, but they’re different reptiles. The lizards are distinguishable from their slithery relatives based on one or more of the following: eyelids, external ear openings, lack of broad belly scales and/or a very long tail. Snakes, conversely, have a long body and a short tail.
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 8 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. It’s interesting to consider the LAX-based lizard’s life, considering all of that airplane rumbling overhead!
The researchers are now 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.
“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 didn’t need a lot of habitat, so as long as they have some protected sites, they are probably OK.”
Image: Theodore Papenfuss and James Parham/UC Berkeley