Philippines dragon-sized lizard is a new species

Tue Apr 6, 2010 7:07pm EDT
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By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A dragon-sized, fruit-eating lizard that lives in the trees on the northern Philippines island of Luzon has been confirmed as a new species, scientists reported on Tuesday.

Hunted for its tasty flesh, the brightly colored forest monitor lizard can grow to more than six feet in length but weighs only about 22 pounds (10 kg), said Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas, whose team confirmed the find.

"It lives up in trees, so it can't get as massive as the Komodo dragon, a huge thing that eats large amounts of fresh meat," Brown said by telephone. "This thing is a fruit-eater and it's only the third fruit-eating lizard in the world."

Discovering such a large vertebrate species is extremely rare, Brown said. The lizard, a new species of the genus Varanus, is skittish and able to hide from humans, its primary predators, which could explain why it has gone undetected by scientists for so long.

Biologists first saw photographs of the big, skinny lizard in 2001, when those surveying the area passed hunters carrying the lizards' colorful carcasses, but the species at that point had never been given a scientific identification.

In the next few years, Brown said, ethnobiologists kept hearing stories "about these two kinds of lizard that everyone liked to eat because their flesh tasted better than the ones that lived on the ground; this thing was described as bigger and more brightly colored."

The two kinds of lizard described by the local people were two names for the same animal, Brown said.


<p>A Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard, a dragon-sized, fruit-eating lizard that lives in the trees on the northern Philippines island of Luzon, is shown in this photograph taken in April 2005 and released to Reuters on April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Arvin Diesmos/National Museum of the Philippines/Handout</p>