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Zoologist: New limbless lizard in India

 

By ASHOK SHARMA, Associated Press WriterTue May 29, 4:52 PM ET

An Indian zoologist says he found a new species of limbless lizard during a recent field study in a forested area in the country’s east.

The 7-inch long lizard looks like a scaly, small snake, and “It prefers to live in a cool retreat, soft soil and below stones,” said Sushil Kumar Dutta, head of the zoology department of the North Orissa University in the eastern Indian town of Baripada.

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

Modern limbless lizards are not snakes, Dutta said.

For one thing, snakes have evolved skulls that allow them to swallow whole prey that is much larger than their heads. Lizards, in contrast, have to bite and chew their prey.

The new lizard was found 10 days ago during a field study in the forested region of Khandadhar near Raurkela in Orissa state, about 625 miles southeast of New Delhi, said Dutta, who led a team of researchers from “Vasundhra,” a non-governmental group, and the university.

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

While modern snakes and lizards are derived from a common evolutionary ancestor, they belong today to two entirely separate groups of animals, or orders. Snakes, over millennia, gradually lost their limbs and developed their characteristic forms of locomotion.

The limbless lizards have lower eyelids and very small ear openings. They lack the flexibility that allows snakes to coil their bodies.

Also, snakes can move in a zigzag manner. However, the lizards move straight, Dutta said.

The lizards have small scales around their bodies, but the scale pattern on their heads is different from what the snakes have, Dutta said.

Other limbless lizards belonging to different families have been found in India’s Nicobar island, in the northeast, and in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, he said.

The closest relatives of the new species are found in Sri Lanka and South Africa, Dutta said.

Another species of the same genus, “Sepsophis punctatus,” was found in 1870 from the Golconda hills in Andhra Pradesh, said Varadi Giri, a scientist at the Bombay Natural History Society, who was not part of the team that found the lizard.

Giri said Dutta is a reputed zoologist and his claim appears legitimate.

“But for an independent confirmation, one has to wait for the publication of the finding in a reputed science magazine,” he said.

 

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