Named the Dalai Mountain blind lizard (Dibamus dalaiensis), it looks like a snake but is in fact a lizard that has adapted to life underground. While males of related species have small hind-limb flaps used in mating, evolution of D. dalaiensis has led to the loss of eyes and legs, allowing it to wriggle through the soil like a worm, looking for insects.
Legless lizards are not entirely uncommon and several species exist, such as the slow worm found in Britain. Although they can be mistaken for snakes, there are key morphological differences between the two: unlike lizards, snakes have a forked tongue and only one lung, and are unable to regenerate severed tails. Upon discovery of the Dalai Mountain lizard, scientists trawled through species description documents and museum specimens to try to identify the animal before declaring it a new species1.
There are now 21 species in the genus Dibamus, which are found in Thailand and Vietnam but have never before been found in Cambodia2. This is also the first time that a new species has been identified by a Cambodian national.
Written by Sarah Gardner