For Rafe Brown, curator of herpetology at the Kansas Biodiversity Institute, the opportunity to find and classify a new species doesn’t come along every day.
Let alone the opportunity to find a 6-foot-long lizard that’s evaded scientists for years.
“It’s a truly spectacular find,” Brown said. “It’s just really rare that something this large would escape scientists for this long.”
Scientists had been following some clues that there may be a new species of giant lizard out there, including a juvenile that had been found in 2005, and Brown said it took a group effort among scientists to track it down.
The fruit-eating Northern Sierra Madre Lizard lives in the Philippines, and is related to the Komodo dragon but is about two-thirds its size.
Last July, two KU graduate students found the lizard and were able to persuade a hunter to part with it so they could analyze it further. DNA samples confirmed the scientist’s suspicions that they had identified a new species.
Its scientific name has not yet been announced, but will likely feature a name for the lizard used by a local tribe that has been hunting the reptile for years.
“It’s new to science and it’s new to us” in the Western world, Brown said. “But that doesn’t mean that no one has ever seen it before.”
Brown said he hopes the lizard could become a flagship species for generating interest in saving the creature’s habitat. In the Luzon area of the Philippines, as elsewhere, deforestation and other phenomena are threatening the natural forest where the lizard lives.
“It’s a big, attractive animal that people will like,” Brown said. “And it’s definitely a species that has to have a forest to live in.”