FULLERTON, Calif., Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A team of biologists reported finding four new species of legless lizards living in areas stretching from Southern California into San Francisco's Bay area.
The snake-like lizards live under loose soil and sand in areas such as the sand dunes near Los Angeles International Airport, the San Joaquin Valley, the eastern Sierra Nevada and the Bay Area, the University of California-Fullerton said in a release.
The legless lizards, whose scientific name is Anniella, are 8-12 inches long with a girth like a pencil.
"This is an exciting discovery to science," said James Parham, a Cal-Fullerton assistant professor of geological sciences and faculty curator of paleontology at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center. "This is the first time that so many new species of lizards have been described from California at one time, making this an unprecedented herpetological discovery for the state."
Anniella are the only legless lizards in the western United States. Through evolution, Parham said, the ancestor of Anniella lost its limbs because burrowing and living in the sand.
Parham said the discoveries "illustrate how new species can still be discovered, despite being found in some heavily compromised urban areas."
Because the lizards are burrowing animals, the researchers used special search methods to find them, including using cover boards to create a research habitat, the university said.
"Since these species are new to science and because they are so hard to find, and their status and geographic ranges are not well defined, much more work is needed to see where these species exist and what their conservation status should be," Parham said.
The findings of Parham and Theodore Papenfuss, a research scientist at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, were published Tuesday in Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology's journal, Breviora.