This weekend I had an encounter with a reptile that I’ve never seen before. As adults, California Legless Lizards are around 8 inches in total length. They have small, smooth scales typically colored silver above and yellow below. These lizards have blunt tails.
They live in loose, sandy soils or leaf litter, typically in sand dunes along the coast. These unusual lizards burrow easily through the sand and feed on sowbugs, spiders, insects and insect larvae. They are found only in California and northern Baja.
How can a reptile that looks so much like a snake be a lizard? One difference is that the California Legless Lizard has moveable eyelids (something snakes do not have). Also, unlike most snakes, many lizards, they have the ability to purposely detach their tails to avoid being eaten by predators.
Millions of years ago, lizards on five continents independently lost their limbs in order to burrow more quickly into sand or soil, wriggling like snakes. This particular type of reptile is so secretive that in 2013 four new species were discovered in California.
It was awesome to finally see one of these elusive creatures “in person.”