Photograph courtesy Thy Neang et al, Zootaxa/Flora & Fauna International

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The new species of blind, legless lizard, called Dibamus dalaiensis, in an undated photo.

Photograph courtesy Thy Neang et al, Zootaxa/Flora & Fauna International

Blind, Legless Lizard Discovered—New Species

Unusual reptile first of its kind in Cambodia, experts say.

A new species of blind, legless lizard has been found in the mountains of Cambodia, conservationists announced.

The 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) reptile, called Dibamus dalaiensis, is the first of its kind discovered in the Southeast Asian country. The animal joins more than 200 legless lizard species and about 50 other new reptiles discovered worldwide in the past decade.

Herpetologist Neang Thy of Fauna & Flora International recently found the new species under a log in the Cardamom Mountains (map), in the southwestern part of the country.

"At first I thought it was a common species," Thy said in a press release. "But looking closer, I realized it was something I didn't recognize."

New species have been pouring out of the Cardamom region in recent years, because the mountains had been closed off to researchers until the 1990s.

"We hardly know anything about this area or the animals in it, since it was a region formerly held by the Khmer Rouge," said conservation biologist Jenny Daltry, also of Fauna & Flora International.

Khmer Rouge was the Communist movement that controlled Cambodia from 1975 to '79 and was active as a guerrilla force for decades afterward. The final Khmer Rouge stronghold fell to the Cambodian government in 1998. (Related: "'Killing Fields' Lure Tourists in Cambodia.")

In the Cardamom Mountains, "the first survey of animal life wasn't until ten years ago, and [Thy] keeps coming back with amazing new discoveries," Daltry told National Geographic News.

New Lizard May Be Found Today, Gone Tomorrow

Snakes are thought to have evolved after legless lizards, which differ from snakes by retaining some lizard traits, such as external ears.

The blind variety of legless lizard likely originated in the Americas, but some 55 million years ago they slithered across the Bering Strait and into Asia.

Like other, modern legless lizards, the new species probably lives underground, where it doesn't need eyes or legs. (See pictures of a legless lizard and other species recently discovered in Brazil.)

"Those adaptations are simply a waste of energy when you're working your way through underground tunnels," Daltry said.

Little is known about D. dalaiensis at this point, but scientists say it may navigate by its nose to hunt for earthworms, ants, and termites.

"We really only know its name. It may be a species that's very rare," Daltry said.

"As far as we know, it's found in one little place on a mountain on Cambodia, which is under a lot of threat from logging, land cessations, and other habitat destruction. The danger with these species is that they may be discovered one year and go extinct the next."

The new legless lizard is described in the April 21 issue of the journal Zootaxa.