Two New Species of Limbless Skinks Discovered in Australia

by johnsmith

Scientists have identified two new species of snake-shaped burrowing skinks (genus Anomalopus) living in mid-eastern Queensland, eastern Australia.

Anomalopus sp. Image credit: Paul Horner / South Australian Museum / Queensland Museum.

Anomalopus sp. Image credit: Paul Horner / South Australian Museum / Queensland Museum.

Anomalopus is a genus of worm-skinks, smooth-scaled burrowing lizards in the family Scincidae.

Less then 10 Anomalopus species are scientifically recognized, all endemic to the eastern half of Australia.

They measure up to 12 cm (4.7 inches) in total length and prefer tropical and subtropical habitats.

“One of the species is particularly odd as it has an extra bone in its middle ear,” said Dr. Mark Hutchinson, a researcher at the South Australian Museum.

“We don’t know for sure what it does, but it is evidently connected with modified hearing in some way — probably associated with the fact that while these lizards still have middle ears and a little sound conducting bone, they have lost their eardrum and with that their ability to hear high frequency sounds.”

“This little extra bonelet may improve low frequency sound transmission.”

“Leglessness and a snake-like body have evolved multiple times in lizards, most spectacularly in snakes themselves, which really are a group of highly specialised legless lizards,” he added.

“By looking at independent cases of leglessness we can look at the common features of the ecological factors that promote it, and the anatomical and developmental changes that make it happen.”

“Every new discovery allows us to test ideas that have already been proposed, and to discover new twists and turns.”

“The two new species are quite rare and only occur in limited areas and have managed to go completely unnoticed until now.”

The discovery is described in a paper in the Journal of Herpetology.


Mark N. Hutchinson et al. 2021. Diversity and Systematics of Limbless Skinks (Anomalopus) from Eastern Australia and the Skeletal Changes that Accompany the Substrate Swimming Body Form. Journal of Herpetology 55 (4): 361-384; doi: 10.1670/20-137

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