New Legless Species - Brachymeles lukbani
A new legless species of lizard has been discovered from the Philippines by an international team of biologists, including Biodiversity Institute scientists, working together with the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Although the new species looks and lives like a snake, it is technically a lizard.
The new species, called Lukban’s Loam-swimming Skink or Brachymeles lukbani in its scientific name, is 5-6 inches long and about 0.2 inches in diameter around the body. It spends most of its life underground, where it moves around by burrowing its body in soil.
A single specimen of the legless lizard found at Mt. Labo in Camarines Norte province was known to biologists as early as 2006 but it was only in June 2008 when an expedition by a team from the University of Kansas, DENR and the National Museum went to the same locality yielded more specimens. The official description of the species appears in a recent issue of the internationally recognized scientific journal Copeia, which is published by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.
Cameron Siler, a Ph.D. student at the Biodiversity Institute and lead author of the species description, says the discovery of a limbless lizard from the Philippines is very exciting but not entirely new. According to Siler, three other species of lizards in the same genus are limbless, two of which are found only in the Philippines.
The legless lizard from Bicol is only one of 15 species that Siler is describing from the genus Brachymeles, the subject of his doctoral dissertation. “As a result of surveys we have carried out throughout the Philippines I expect the number of known species of lizards from this genus to more than double in the next few years,” he says.
Dr. Rafe Brown, Curator of Herpetology at the Biodiversity Institute, says “In the world of reptiles, limbs have been lost independently several times across the evolutionary tree. The most widely known instance is the case of snakes but limblessness is known in several genera of lizards.”
The new lizard species is known only from Mt. Labo but Siler says further surveys are needed to determine if it is found in other parts of the Bicol peninsula or in the rest of Luzon.
“These lizards are very secretive that they escape notice of local residents. Local people either don’t recognize them or confuse them with snakes and worms. Quite often people don’t even have a local name for them,” Siler adds.
The lizard was named after General Vicente R. Lukban (1860-1916), a Filipino freedom fighter who was born in Labo, Camarines Norte, where specimens of the new species were collected.
Mundita Lim, Chief of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, says “This discovery underscores the idea that so much of our biodiversity, from giant, fruit-eating lizards to tiny legless ones, remains undocumented.” According to her, the forest on Mt. Labo is being declared a Critical Habitat under the Wildlife Act, which will give government protection to the site.