New beautiful, dragon-like species of lizard discovered in the Tropical Andes

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful, highly variable new species of lizard discovered in the upper basin of the Huallaga River in central Peru. The authors, having searched for amphibians and reptiles in the area between 2011 and 2018, have now finally described this stunning reptile as new to science in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics. In fact, E. feiruzae is the fourth herp species discovered by the team in this biologically underresearched part of Peru.

The Huallaga River in the Andes of central Peru extends for 1,138 km, making it the largest tributary of the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon River. This basin harbours a great variety of ecosystems, including the Peruvian Yunga ecoregion, which is considered a shelter of endemic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Closeup of a male of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

How is it possible, then, that this corner of the Tropical Andes remains poorly known to biologists to this day? The main reason is indeed a quite simple one and it lies in the civil wars with terrorist organisations and drug traffickers that were going on in the region in the 1980s, disrupting biological studies. 

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and that’s when, little by little, some biologists began to venture back to the Huallaga Valley. However, forest destruction by coca plantations during the internal war, which eventually led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, left the Huallaga valley highly fragmented, making for an even more urgent need for biodiversity research in the area.

An adult female of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

A new species of wood lizard, Enyalioides feiruzae, was recently confirmed from the premontane forest of the Huallaga river basin, and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics. It took the researchers seven years of field surveys to formally describe it. To do so, they had first to spend plenty of nights in the forests, in order to pick by hand lizards that were sleeping on bushes 20–150 cm above the ground.

The Feiruz wood lizards – especially the males – come in a stunning variety of colours. Males can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides.

The researchers believe E. feiruzae might have established as a separate species after it got geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly as a result from tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to the Early Miocene.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after – you guessed it – Feiruz – “a female green iguana, muse and lifelong friend”. The owner of Feiruz the iguana, Catherine Thomson, supported the authors’ efforts in taxonomic research and nature conservation.

The habitat of the E. feiruzae is very fragmented by croplands and pastures for cattle ranching, and for now we only know of a single protected population in the Tingo Maria National Park. Much more remains to be discovered about the size and distribution of E. feiruzae populations and their ability to survive and adapt in a fragmented landscape.

The new species belongs to the genus Enyalioides, which contains sixteen species. More than half of the known Enyalioides species have been described in the last two decades, largely due to the recent surveys of remote places in the Tropical Andes from Ecuador and Peru.

Original source:

Venegas PJ, Chávez G, García-Ayachi LA, Duran V, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) A new species of wood lizard (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from the Río Huallaga Basin in Central Peru. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 263-273. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.69227

The Castaway: New monitor lizard fills top-order predator role on remote Pacific island

Separated by several hundred kilometres from its next of kin, a new species of blue-tailed monitor lizard unique to the remote Mussau Island has been described. Unknown to science until recently and formally termed the “isolated”, it is the only large-sized land-living predator and scavenger native to the island.

Dubbed a “biogeographical oddity” by its discoverers, led by Valter Weijola, a graduate student from the University of Turku, Finland, the lizard species is also the first new monitor lizard to be described from the country of Papua New Guinea in over twenty years. The finding was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Monitors play an important ecological role in many island ecosystems in the southwest Pacific. Predatory mammals have never colonized the region due to the isolation of these islands. Instead, these large, active and intelligent lizards fill the role of top-predators and scavengers. The Pacific monitor lineage to which the new species belongs have been so successful at oversea dispersal that a number of different species now occupy almost every island from the Moluccas in Indonesia to the eastern Solomon Islands and even Micronesia.

The new endemic species was observed and studied during fieldwork by Weijola and local assistants in the relatively dry coastal vegetation of Mussau, but it is likely that it also persist in the remnants of intact forest in the interior of the island.

in habitat

The formally described female lizard, or holotype, measures 1 m with the tail being one and and a half times the length of the dominantly black-coloured body covered with yellow and orange markings. The tail of the adults shows varying degrees of turquoise to bluish pigmentation. Another distinctive feature for the species is the pale yellow tongue, which is a trait shared only by three other species of Pacific monitors. The new species is known to eat crabs, other reptiles and their eggs, and small birds.

“Usually monitors like these will eat just about anything they can catch and kill, as well as carcass and turtle eggs when available,” explains Weijola. “While young, Pacific monitor lizards are highly secretive and subsist mainly on insects and other small animals.”

The new species, which can grow to well over a meter in length, was named Varanus semotus, a Latin reference to the remoteness and isolation of the relatively small and partly volcanic island where the lizard was found. Close examination revealed the reptile to be distinct from its relatives from New Guinea and New Britain. Genetic studies, conducted by co-authors Stephen Donnellan, South-Australian Museum, and Christer Lindqvist, Åbo Akademi University, showed that the species has been isolated for a long time, estimatedly 1-2 million years, or even longer.

Varanus2

“Isolation is the keyword here,” says Weijola. “It is what has driven speciation and made the South-Pacific region one of the World’s biodiversity hotspots.” For anything to arrive on Mussau (from New Guinea or New Britain) it would need to cross 250-350 kilometers of open sea, and this doesn’t happen frequently. So, once the ancestor arrived, perhaps in the form of a gravid female, the population must have been completely isolated.””These islands are full of unique creatures often restricted in distribution to just one island or island group,” explains the researcher. “Yet, we know relatively little about them. Even large species of reptiles and mammals are regularly being discovered, not to mention amphibians and invertebrates. This is what makes it such a biologically valuable and fascinating region.”

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Original source:

Weijola V, Donnellan SC, Lindqvist C (2016) A new blue-tailed Monitor lizard (Reptilia, Squamata, Varanus) of the Varanus indicus group from Mussau Island, Papua New Guinea.ZooKeys 568: 129-154. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.568.6872

The scaled king and his knight: 2 new giant bent-toed gecko species from New Guinea

The extremely complex geological history of New Guinea has allowed many of its animals and plants the chance to grow different enough to make a name for themselves. In the case of two newly described and unusually large gecko species – only a noble name would do. The two new species whose names respectively mean ‘knight’ and ‘king’ were discovered by a team led by Dr. Paul Oliver, The Australian National University and University of Melbourne, are described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Both new species belong to the world’s most diverse gecko genus Cyrtodactylus which comprises more than 200 species known to date. These reptiles are commonly called bent-toed or bow-fingered geckos due to their distinctive slender curved toes. They occur through Asia and Australia.

These 200 species vary greatly in size, build and colouration. However, one of the newly described species, called C. rex, meaning “king” in Latin, is the largest species in the genus, and among the biggest of all geckos in the world.

In general, the bent-toed geckos measure no more than 13 cm in length, yet the “gecko king” can grow up to 17 cm, with the females slightly bigger than the males. It is also characterised with upper body side covered in alternating regions of dark grey brown and medium brown. There are also variable in size and shape, but clearly defined dark grey-brown markings. All examined specimens are reported to have either four or five dark brown blotches or bands running down their original tails.

The second new species also bears a noble name – Cyrtodactyulus equestris, meaning ‘knight’ in Latin. It is also considered a giant among its relatives with its length of up to 14 cm for the females. Similarly to its larger relative, its head is large and wide, clearly distinct from the neck. Its upper side is coloured with alternating regions of light and medium brown. While in smaller individuals the patches are visibly defined by dark brown edging, such is missing in the larger ones, giving their pattern slightly faded appearance.

As a whole, the distribution of the two new geckos overlap, although the “gecko knight” is reported to prefer the relatively undisturbed hill or lower montane forests of northern New Guinea and its neighbour “the king” seems to stick to the surrounding lowlands.

While the larger size of the New Guinean bent-toed geckos seems to be an evolutionary trend, the role of potential factors such as competition, ecological diversification, isolation and dispersal remains quite a mystery.

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Original source:

Oliver PM, Richards SJ, Mumpuni, Rösler H (2016) The Knight and the King: two new species of giant bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus, Gekkonidae, Squamata) from northern New Guinea, with comments on endemism in the North Papuan Mountains. ZooKeys 562: 105-130. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.562.6052

The lizard of consistency: New iguana species which sticks to its colors found in Chile

During a field trip at 3000 metres above sea level, a group of scientists, led by Jaime Troncoso-Palacios, Universidad de Chile, discovered a new endemic iguana species, in the mountains of central Chile, scientists. Noticeably different in size and scalation, compared to the rest of the local lizards, what initially grabbed the biologists’ attention was its colouration. Not only was it unlike the already described ones, but also appeared surprisingly consistent within the collected individuals, even regardless of their sex. Eventually, it was this peculiar uniformity that determined the lizard’s name L. uniformis. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The researchers found the lizards quite abundant in the area, which facilitated their observations and estimations. Apart from a thorough description of the new iguana along with its comparisons to its related species, the present paper also provides an in-depth discussion about the placement of the new taxon, which had been confused with other species in the past.

While most of the other lizards from the area and its surroundings often vary greatly in colouration and pattern between populations and sexes, such thing is not present in the new species. Both males and females from the observed collection have their bodies’ upper side in brown, varying from dark on the head, through coppery on the back and light brown on the tail. The down side of the body is mainly yellowish, while the belly – whitish. The only variables the scientists have noticed in their specimens are slight differences in the shade with two females demonstrating unusual olive hues on their snouts. These differences in morphology were also strongly supported by the molecular phylogeny through the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which was performed by Dr. Alvaro A. Elorza, from Universidad Andres Bello.

Accustomed to life in highland rocky habitats with scarce greenery, these lizards spend their active hours, estimated to take place between 09:00 h and 18:00 h hidden under stones. However, they might not be too hard to find due to their size of about 8.5 cm for the males and their abundance in the studied area. The females are more slender and measure 7 cm in length on average.

Having caught one of their specimens while holding a yellow flower in its mouth, the scientists conducted further examination of the stomach contents of the studied individuals and concluded that the species is omnivorous, feeding mainly on plants as well as insects and roundworms.

In conclusion, the researchers showed that there is still a huge gap in the knowledge of the close relatives of the newly described species and their “challenging taxonomy”.

 

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Original source:

Troncoso-Palacios J, Elorza AA, Puas GI, Alfaro-Pardo E (2016) A new species of Liolaemusrelated to L. nigroviridis from the Andean highlands of Central Chile (Iguania, Liolaemidae).ZooKeys 555: 91-114. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.555.6011