New Species of Monitor Lizard Found in Philippines: 6.5Ft, 22 LB
A 6.5ft, 22-pound monitor lizard found in the Philippines has now been confirmed as a new species.
The Varanus bitatawa was originally discovered in 2004 in the Sierra Madre mountains. According to research documented in today's Biology Letters, scientists differentiated the creature from other similar relatives, such as the Komodo dragon.
Not a Komodo Lizard
Unlike the Komodo, the new lizard feeds off of fruit and snails, while the Komodo feeds off of animal carcasses. The Varanus bitatawa also varies from its relatives through unique claw and penis shape.
Scientists compared DNA of the two lizards to confirm the new species. The pattern and shape of the scales also differentiate it from other lizards. The huge lizard is the only 3-fruit-eating monitor species in the world.
Lizard Habitat Decline & Hunting
It is not unusual for scientists to discover a new species of a small fish, but a discovery of such a large invertebrate is quite rare. Much of the monitor lizard population in the area is on the decline, due to deforestation and development of the animal's habitat. The lizards are also hunted and trapped for the pet trade.
Scientists hope that by protecting the new lizard and its habitat, the species will continue to populate. Conservation biologists hope to work with policy makers to protect forests in the area.
They compared their find to the 1993 discovery of the forest-dwelling Saola ox in Vietnam and a new monkey species discovered in the highlands of Tanzania in 2006.
Local Filipino Agta Tribesman Hunted the Lizard
While the new lizard was a discovery to scientists, it was no surprise to locals. The Varanus bitatawa was first spotted by local researchers when the dead lizard was being carried by the Agta tribesman. The native residents of the island of Luzon hunt the creature for its meat.
Researchers say that the lizards spend most of their time in the treetops, more than 60 feet above the ground. Lizard species similar to this one can spend less than 20 minutes on the ground per week.