New giant lizard species discovered

07 April 2010

Researchers have discovered a spectacular new species of giant lizard living in the Sierra Madre mountains in Luzon, an island of the Philippines.  The brightly coloured reptile – which can grow up to two metres long – is a kind of monitor lizard previously unknown to science and its discovery is reported this week in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

The lizard - named Varanus bitatawa after the local Agta tribespeople’s name for the creature - represents one of the few scientific discoveries of a new large vertebrate species in recent years.  As the authors point out, such discoveries are rare because “As human populations increase, forested regions of the planet are charted, and large intact tracts of forest continue to shrink or become fragmented.”

Despite scientific ignorance over the reptile’s existence, local residents have apparently known of the lizard for many years – in fact, it’s an important component of the local diet.  The fact that the species has escaped scientific attention up to now has led the international research team, led by Dr Rafe Brown of Kansas University, to speculate that there may be other species in the area as yet unknown.

The authors hope that V. bitatawa can act as a flagship species to spur on conservation efforts in the area.  Dr Rafe Brown, leader of the team that discovered the new species and curator-in-charge of the Herpetology Division, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute said: “We hope that by focusing on protection of this new monitor, conservation biologists and policy makers can work together to protect the remaining highly imperilled forests of northern Luzon”.