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Swynnerton’s Worm Lizard

A lucky visitor to Gorongosa may be rewarded with the sight of the most specialized subterranean lizard in the world, the Swynnerton’s Worm Lizard (Chirindia swynnertoni). These reptiles are so unusual that for a long time biologists classified them as a group separate from snakes and lizards, the Amphisbaenia. This named is derived from “Amphisbaena”, the mythical Greek snake with two heads, with reference to the stubby, head-like tail of these animals. The body of a Worm Lizard hardly resembles that of a typical lizard, and it is easy to confuse them with earthworms ­­– they lack legs and eyes, and their skin is pink and covered small scales arranged in rings.

 

The strange appearance of these lizards is an adaptation to life deep in the sand, where they hunt termites and other small insects. They rarely emerge to the surface, and for this reason little is known about their biology and behavior. But some animals are very good at finding and eating them. In fact, the very first specimen of the Swynnerton’s Worm Lizard was found in the stomach of a kingfisher!

 

Like all African lizards, this small reptile is completely harmless to humans. But its unusual body and behavior provide scientists with valuable data on how snakes have evolved from lizards.