Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Giant Lizard

In 2004, a 2-meters-long, golden-spotted monitor lizard was discovered in the high Sierra Madre forests of Luzon, one of the main islands of the Philippines. It wasn't until last year, when an adult was captured and sampled for DNA, that this lizard was shown to be a new species. This new species has been named the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard (Varanus bitatawa). It spends much of its time in the trees, its diet consists of fruits and snails (not carrion like many other monitor lizard species), and has specialized claws that help it to climb and gather food. V. bitatawa is related to two other fruit-eating monitor lizards found in the Philippines, most closely to Varanus olivaceus from southern Luzon and nearby islands. It differs from other monitors in scalation, color pattern, body size, reproductive anatomy, and genetic divergence. Additionally, it is ecologically isolated from V. olivaceus (found on the same island) by a 150 meter, low-elevation river valley, restricting V. bitatawa to the forests of the central and northern mountain range. As with many other species in the world, and in the Philippines, these lizards populations are experiencing massive population declines due to habitat destruction and hunting and trapping for the pet trade.

The article in Biology Letters: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/04/01/rsbl.2010.0119.short?rss=1 (DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0119)

The NPR article: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125663860&sc=fb&cc=fp
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