Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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A new species of limbless lizard was discovered in a forested region about 1,000 km southeast of New Delhi, India. The 18-cm (7-inch) lizard resembles a small snake.

Image: Sushil Kumar Dutta.

A new species of limbless lizard was discovered in eastern India, an Indian zoologist revealed today. The newly found 18-centimetre-long lizard (pictured above) resembles a small, scaly snake and it prefers to live in a cool retreat with soft soil.

“The lizard is new to science and is an important discovery. It is not found anywhere else in the world,” Sushil Kumar Dutta, head of the zoology department of at North Orissa University in the eastern Indian town of Baripada.

What is the difference between a limbless lizard and a snake? Even though they evolved from a common reptilian ancestor, they are classified into two distinct taxonomic orders of animals, based on their different body structures. Basically, a snake’s skull has evolved to allow them to swallow prey that is much larger than their head, whereas a limbless lizard’s skull allows them to bite and chew their prey. Additionally, lizards have an external opening to their ears and they have eyelids, both structures that snakes lack. Not only that, but limbless lizards’ bodies are not as flexible as a snake’s, so they cannot form tight coils as a snake can.

The new lizard species was found approximately 10 days ago during a field study in the forested region of Khandadhar near Raurkela in Orissa state, about 1,000 kilometres southeast of New Delhi, Dutta said.

“The new species will be scientifically described at a later stage after accumulation of more data,” Dutta said. ”[But] Preliminary scientific study reveals that the lizard belongs to the genus Sepsophis.”

Other limbless lizards belonging to different taxonomic families have been found on India’s Nicobar island, in the northeast, and in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, while another species in the same genus, Sepsohis punctatus, was found in 1870 in the Golconda hills in Andhra Pradesh. But the closest relatives to the new species are reportedly found in Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Cited story.


  1. #1 HerpGrrl
    May 29, 2007

    Very cool! When you compare preserved specimens of limbless lizards and snakes, it’s actually pretty easy to tell them apart visually. This one is quite beautiful, I must say.

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    May 29, 2007

    I wonder what this lizard did to piss of God. The snake introduced corruption to the world. I guess the legless lizard did something less evil, as it hasn’t gained the same notoriety. Hmm, perhaps it showed Adam how to brew beer.


  3. #3 CCP
    May 29, 2007

    Note to herpetophiles: it’s a scincid.

  4. #4 Steve Reuland
    May 29, 2007

    This is pretty cool. There is of course a common clade of legless lizards already about, of the genus Ophisaurus and relatives. They are very common where I used to live. Here are some pictures:

  5. #5 Beth
    July 3, 2007

    That is awesome! I had no idea there was such a thing as a limbless lizard. Thanks for sharing!

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