Photo in the News: New Limbless Lizard Species Found

Limbless lizard photo
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May 28, 2007—It may look like a snake and live like a snake. But a tiny reptile found recently in India is something else entirely, an Indian zoologist announced today.

The 7-inch (18-centimeter) creature is not a serpent at all, but actually a completely new species of limbless lizard, said Sushil Kumar Dutta of North Orissa University.

"The lizard is new to science and is an important discovery. It is not found anywhere else in the world," Dutta told the Associated Press.

"It prefers to live in a cool retreat, soft soil, and below stones," he added.

Though limbless lizards are rare, a number of such species have been found throughout the world, including elsewhere in India. Creatures known as glass snakes or glass reptiles, for example, superficially resemble serpents and are known to live in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

These animals lost the use of their limbs some time after snakes and lizards split onto separate evolutionary paths. The creatures are distinct because they retain lizard characteristics that are completely missing from serpents—such as eyelids and external ears.

Dutta and a team of researchers found the latest legless reptile near the Raurkela region of India's east coast state of Orissa, about 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) southeast of New Delhi (India map).

The find appears to belong to the genus Sepsophis, Dutta said. Its closest relatives live in Sri Lanka and South Africa, he added.

Skeptics, however, are waiting for a full scientific description to confirm that the discovery is actually a lizard—and not, as first appearances would suggest, a plain old snake.

—Aalok Mehta

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