Planet Earth

On the Darwinian Fast-Track: Lizards Evolve Away Limbs

DiscoblogBy Nina BaiNov 11, 2008 6:40 PM

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Though some believe humans have reached the dead-end of our evolutionary journey, small skink lizards (Lerista) seem to still be in the thick of it.Skink lizards already have elongated, snake-like bodies with relatively small, shrunken legs.Now, new research [pdf] finds that the lizards are giving up walking for good, and have been rapidly evolving away their limbs.

Adam Skinner of the University of Adelaide performed a genetic analysis on several species of skink lizards with different sized limbs.He found that there have been at least ten independent reductions in limbs throughout the lizards’ evolution, without any signs of reversal.Some species now have fewer digits (lizard fingers) while others have lost whole limbs.Complete loss of limbs could have occurred in as little as 3.6 millions years—a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms.

Unlike certain sushi-worthy fish species that are rapidly evolving to survive overfishing, the skinks appear to be evolving for their own convenience (and for the inconvenience of creationists). At the end of the day, not much beats a svelte limb-less body if you’re trying to slither and “swim” through sandy soil.

Related Content: DISCOVER: Speeding Through Evolution Discoblog: No More Evolution For You, Says British Scientist Discoblog: A Real Live Case of a Darwin Fish? RB: Annual Creationism Conference Take "Scientific Approach"

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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