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California Legless Lizard Fact File

Appearance

Legless lizards look similar to snakes but have a few key differences which mean they are classed with lizards. One of these is an ability to lose their tail if threatened by a predator.

They lack limbs on either side of their body. The California legless lizard does not have an external ear opening. Their eye has a moveable lid.

An adult California legless lizard will be colored brown, dark brown or black across their body. A stripe runs down the backside in all individuals and several other lines may be present down the sides of the body in some individuals. In darker individuals the lines may not be visible.

Their underside tends to be whitish or a bright yellow.

Females tend to be slightly larger than the males. They have a body length of up to 22.8cm (8.98in) long with a weight of between 0.9 and 4.7g (0.03-0.17oz).

Diet

The California legless lizard is a carnivore which mostly feeds on insects. Their primary food sources are insect larva and adult beetles.

Before eating their prey they will drag it under the ground in to their burrow. They will sit in wait under leaf litter to ambush prey.

baja california legless lizard

Scientific Name

Anniella pulchra

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

0.9-4.7g (0.03-0.17oz)

Length

22.8cm (8.98in)

Lifespan

6 years

Diet

Carnivorous

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Range

California legless lizards are found as their name suggest in California in the United States.

Habitat

They make their home in sand dunes, chaparral and coastal scrub, deserts and grasslands. Their most dense populations are seen along the coast.

They can be found hiding under logs or leaf litter, typically in damp areas.

baja california legless lizard

Reproduction

Mating takes place during May, June and July. Young are born live after a gestation period of four months.

The average litter size is 1.3 offspring with litter size varying from one to four. It is thought that females do not give birth each year but the exact interval is not known.

Once the young emerge from their mother they are independent with no parental care provided.

Sexual maturity is reached at two years old.

Behavior

Legless lizards will shed their skin in multiple pieces. This is in contrast with snakes who shed theirs in one piece.

They are primarily active during the day.

California legless lizards are rarely seen above ground spending most of their day underground or under leaf litter.

Unlike most lizards the California legless lizard can be active at lower temperatures.

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the California legless lizard include snakes, lizards, mice, weasels, domestic cats and birds.

One of their main ways to avoid predation is to hide underground. If a predator grabs them they can drop their tail to escape. A new tail will regrow in its place but this is typically shorter and darker than the original. This process lasts for one year.

Humans threaten this species through human expansion, agricultural development and oil/gas exploration.

Another increasing threat is wildfires which may not impact the species directly but contribute to a loss of leaf litter.

Quick facts

Prior to 2013 the California legless lizard was considered one species but has now been split in to five.

This species is also known as the northern legless lizard.

baja california legless lizard

Photo Credits

Top and Bottom

Public Domain

Middle One

By marlin harms – Flickr: California Legless Lizard, Aniella pulchra II, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14752151

References

Sciencenetlinks.com. 2021. Non-Leapin' Lizards: The Legless Relatives – October 25 / Image of the Day / Science NetLinks. [online] Available at: <http://sciencenetlinks.com/daily-content/10/25/> [Accessed 23 February 2021].

California Academy of Sciences. 2021. California Legless Lizards. [online] Available at: <https://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/california-legless-lizards> [Accessed 23 February 2021].

Yasuda, C., 2012. California Legless Lizard. [online] United States Department of Agriculture. Available at: <https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/92563_FSPLT3_3949487.pdf> [Accessed 23 February 2021].

Hollingsworth, B. & Hammerson, G.A. 2007. Anniella pulchra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T62227A12582107. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T62227A12582107.en. Downloaded on 23 February 2021.

Californiaherps.com. 2021. Northern California Legless Lizard – Anniella pulchra. [online] Available at: <http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/a.pulchra.html> [Accessed 23 February 2021].

Lee, S. 2008. "Anniella pulchra" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 22, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Anniella_pulchra/

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