Brazilian Legless Lizard Officially Recognized as New Species

10/22/2008

Zootaxa Publishes Lizard�s Scientific Name for First Time

Bras�lia, Brazil � A lizard without legs. This interesting reptile found in Brazil earlier this year was described in a study published in September by the scientific journal Zootaxa. The scientific study cited for the first time the lizard�s scientific name, Bachia oxyrhina, officially marking its status as a new species.

The legless lizard was discovered in January by a group of researchers at Esta��o Ecol�gica Serra Geral do Tocantins, the second largest protected area in the Cerrado Hotspot, a savanna region in central Brazil. The group was led by Cristiano Nogueira, biodiversity analyst for Conservation International in Brazil (CI-Brasil). Another 13 species believed new to science also were found on the expedition, and the legless lizard is the first to be officially recognized.

Bachia oxyrhina has an extremely elongated body and tail, giving the impression that it has no legs. Its limbs, like other species of the Bachia genus, are rudimentary and have no locomotive function, says Nogueira. The legless lizard moves by slithering beneath the superficial layer of the sandy terrain typical of Jalap�o region, the largest block of native Cerrado the world, where it was found. Its pointy nose helps it open paths through the soil, where it hunts for small bugs, termites and ants. It is this characteristic that gave origin to its name, derived from the Latin oxy (sharp) and rhinos (nose).

FIRST MENTION: Check out CI's first announcement of the discovery of the legless lizard.

Species of the Bachia genus are one of the many limbless reptiles lineages that superficially resemble snakes due to the lack of well developed legs. However, many other features differentiate most limbless lizards from snakes, as lizards generally show external ear openings and lack the extreme modifications in cranial morphology that enables snakes to ingest very large prey.

According to Nogueira, the formal description of a species in a taxonomy journal such as Zootaxa is the first step toward better understanding by the scientific community. Scientific descriptions enable researchers to create a list of the existing species in a certain area, allowing them to map out the area�s biodiversity and to understand its biological importance. �All this information is crucial to the development of adequate conservation strategies. It is difficult to conserve a species or an area if you don�t know it,� Nogueira says.

Leading Brazilian zoologist Miguel Trefaut Rodrigues from the Universidade de S�o Paulo,and first author of the description of the legless lizard, says the process of recognition of a species can take many years, depending on the accumulation of basic of scientific knowledge about the group to which it belongs. In this case, however, the description took only eight months.

�Recent research with lizards of the same genus, together with the large amount of data collected on the diversity of lizards living in the Cerrado and the experience of the team of herpetologists (zoologists who study reptiles and amphibians) involved in this project, contributed to the quickness of the recognition process,� says Rodrigues.

IN PHOTOS: New Species of Brazilian Legless Lizard Officially Recognized

The description of the legless lizard is the third one among lizards of the same genus since 2007. The Bachia micromela and the Bachia psamophila species, also found in the Cerrado of the state of Tocantins, were described last year. �These recent additions to the list of lizards that live in the Cerrado show us that we are still far from knowing the biodiversity of this biome in order to conserve it properly. This is a serious problem considering the rapid expansion of agriculture in this region,� says Rodrigues. According to him, the number of new species discovered in the Cerrado, considered high compared to other regions in Brazil, indicates that numerous species might already have become extinct due to habitat destruction.

Ricardo Machado, CI-Brasil�s Director for the Cerrado-Pantanal Program, says that the Cerrado is home to 25 percent of all 1,300 species of vertebrates described in Brazil over the past two decades. �Because there are few studies about the biodiversity of this region, the high number of findings reveals that the Cerrado presents great potential for the discovery of new species,� he says.

The Bachia oxyrhina was discovered during an expedition to Esta��o Ecol�gica Serra Geral do Tocantins, which also identified 13 other likely new species of vertebrates. For 29 days, researchers from CI-Brasil, Instituto de Bioci�ncias (Bioscience Institute), Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de S�o Paulo, da Universidade de S�o Carlos e da Universidade Federal do Tocantins (Zoology Museum of the University of S�o Paulo, University of S�o Carlos and the Federal University of Tocantins) explored the region, identifying existing species with the goal of mapping the biodiversity of this protected area. The expedition was financed by Funda��o O Botic�rio de Conserva��o da Natureza with the support of the NGO Pequi - Pesquisa e Conserva��o do Cerrado, dedicated to the research and conservation of the Cerrado.

###

PHOTOS AND MAPS ARE AVAILABLE AT:
ftp.conservation.org
Username: mediaguest
Password: paris0405
Go to �Guest� then click on �Legless Lizard� folder. 

Media Contacts:

Patricia Malentaqui
Communications Coordinator
Conservation International
Phone:                               (703) 341-2471                 (USA)
Email: p.malentaqui@conservation.org

Mirella Domenich
Communications Manager
CI-Brasil
Phone:                               +55 61 3226-2491                 (Brazil)
Email: m.domenich@conservacao.org

Cristiano Nogueira
Biodiversity Analyst
CI-Brasil
Phone:                               +55 61 3226-2491                 (Brazil)

Ricardo Machado
Manager, Cerrado-Pantanal Program
CI-Brasil
Phone:                               +55 61 3226-2491                 (Brazil)

Miguel Trefaut Rodrigues
Researcher
Bioscience Institute of the University of S�o Paulo
Phone:                               +55 11 3091-7570                 (Brazil)

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth�s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.