With a new species of legless lizard being discovered on the runway of LAX, it harkens to the debate about how they happen to differ from snakes, which are at first glance seemingly the same thing. The slithering lizard lacking legs found at LAX was not a paid extra from Snakes on a Plane and joins an additional four species of legless lizard brethren that had been previously discovered in California. To view merely a picture of a legless lizard does not allow for the complete observation necessary to derive the difference between them and their nearly identical twin, the snake, but an observation of them in action would be able to paint a different picture entirely.
The differences between the species are a result of progressively different steps in the evolutionary chain. The modern snake evolved from the legged snake which no modern scientist has had the pleasure of observing in person. The most direct references to these creatures would be found in the paintings and carvings of ancient civilizations. In a comparison of the two species the snake has certain and distinct evolutionary advantages developed for better survival that the legless lizard does not. Legless lizards in contrast evolved from legged lizards that eventually shed their particular need for said legs and numerous examples of these species can still be found in the world today. The history of reptiles is both deep and revered throughout history, and the particular distinction between that of snakes and legless lizards seems to be of vast importance.
The primary example of this is the ability of snakes to unhinge their jaw so they are able to consume prey larger than themselves. The most common prey consumed in this manner is a common field mouse because they are the easiest food to obtain for those who have chosen to keep a snake as their pet. Legless lizards on the other hand have a fixed jaw, and must pursue prey smaller than their body in order to satiate their hunger.
Another difference is that legless lizards have movable eyelids whereas snakes do not have eyelids at all. On the surface this may seem like a tally mark in the win column for legless lizards, but the mere fact that a snake’s eye can withstand climates of scorching deserts and pitch black jungles without the need to blink would make them the stronger breed. A human, which also is an obvious owner of movable eyelids, could be susceptible to a slower reaction time between blinks than that of a snake. Another trait in the same ballpark that differs between snakes and legless lizards is the existence of ear openings on legless lizards. Once again on the surface this may seem like an advantage, but the fact that snakes do not have ear openings at all and continue to thrive throughout the world illustrates that there may be no distinct advantage or necessity for this whatsoever. On the upside for legless lizards they are able, like other lizards, to grow a new tail when their previous one has been severed, so that could certainly be helpful in tail required situations.
The remarkable fact appears to be with seemingly de-evolutionary traits abound, excluding the tail regeneration, that the legless lizard has survived in varying species to this day. But thinking about the importance so many cultures place on snakes and everything akin to them, it is probable that they are of more importance than human beings currently acknowledge.
Written by Michael Blain