A new species of blind snake lizard

Dibamus floweri. Photo Credit Evan Quah.

The lizards of the genus Dibamus are a poorly known clade of 22 species found at scattered locations across Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Indonesia. The genus is also found in the Nicobar Islands of India, the Philippines, and New Guinea. Their worm-like appearance and burrowing lifestyle beneath leaf-litter, rocks, and rotting logs have contributed to them being mistaken for earthworms or blind snakes. However, Dibamus have large head plates;  degenerate, vestigial eyes covered by scales; and they lack an external ear opening. All these traits are adaptations for a fossorial lifestyle. Only males bear traces of hind limbs that are reduced to flap-like structures near the base of the tail above the vent.

Now, a 23rd species has been described, Dibamus floweri. The new species was found at Fraser’s Hill, Pahang, in the central highlands of Peninsular Malaysia. Its maximum body length is a mere 112 mm and its tail is only 11 to 15% of the body length. Dibamus floweri is the third species of dibamid discovered in Peninsular Malaysia and is the first montane species. It is based on two specimens found while digging through leaf litter that had accumulated along the banks of roads. The holotype was discovered at night in a drainage ditch in a damp and shaded area. The paratype was uncovered during the day underneath approximately 3 cm beneath the soil and in the same pile of leaf litter. When handled, both specimens flared their body scales, giving them a wrinkled appearance. The authors interpreted this behavior as a defensive, an anti-predator mechanism employed by Dibamus to mimic a possible non-palatable species of worm. The other two Peninsular Malaysian species, D. booliati and D. tiomanensis display the same behavior when agitated. Its discovery underscores the importance of uplands regions as important habitats for herpetological diversity and their understudied nature.

Quah ES, Anuar S, Grismer LL, Grassby-Lewis R. 2017. A new species of Dibamus Duméril & Bibron 1839 (Squamata: Dibamidae) from a hill station in Peninsular Malaysia. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 65:681-90.

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