Limbless Lizards

Friday, November 19, 2010
Thomas Hardy

Usually, your close relatives resemble you.  Or at least they have the same number of limbs.

Cameron Siler

Not true, however, for Brachymeles lukbani, a species recently discovered by Cameron Siler, one of the museum's graduate students in herpetology.  This critter (which has lost its limbs through evolution) looks like a snake but is actually a skink — a type of lizard.  The genus Brachymeles has a diverse membership. 

"They have the full suite from limbed to limbless, from working limbs with five fingers to no limbs at all," says Siler. 

But this makes the lizards an excellent group for studying how and why limb loss occurs.  Brachymeles lukbani "swims" through rotten logs and undergrowth, looking for food.  In that situation, possessing limbs might not be very useful, or even counter-productive. 

Siler's research has increased the museum's holdings of skinks, making it a leader in skink research

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