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 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.”

Herpetologist Neang Thy has been researching amphibians and reptiles since 2003. Since joining Fauna & Flora International in Cambodia in 2004, Neang Thy has undertaken a lot of fieldwork to the Cardamom Mountains to look for amphibians and reptiles.

He shared: “The Cardamom Mountains is a vast and mysterious tropical landscape, and on every forest visit, we have the big dream of spotting unknown amphibians and reptiles. This goal and good luck go hand-in-hand. Sometimes we pray to find a new species, and wonder how in such a large landscape finding previously undiscovered creatures is even possible!”

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.

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.

Like other, modern legless lizards, the new species probably lives underground, where it doesn’t need eyes or legs.

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.

Neang Thy also said “Finding and having museums recognize a new species is only the beginning – now the animal has a name and a partial geographic distribution, but we still know almost nothing of its biology. Still much to be learned!”

Cambodia now boasts more than 22 new species (including 10 amphibians and 12 reptiles) discovered and described since 2000.

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