The newfound wood lizards live in Ecuador and Peru—and chances are, there are more yet to be discovered, scientists say.
Attention Game of Thrones: Three new species of “dwarf dragon” have been discovered in Peru and Ecuador, a new study says.
Wood lizards—which resemble miniature versions of mythical dragons—are among the largest and most colorful lizards in South American forests, making their discovery even more notable, according to scientists. (Also see “Colorful New Lizard Identified in Vietnam.”)
“As I became more expert in the group, it became easier for me to suspect that something’s weird or new.”
But when the team brought the reptile to their lab at the Museo de Zoología, they noticed one major difference: This new lizard had brown eyes, with golden rings around the pupils. E. oshaughnessyi has bright red eyes. (Also see “Dragon-Like, Feathered Dinosaur Was Ace Flyer.”)
They also noted that the scales of the Alto Tambo are smoother than those of E. oshaughnessyi.
One specimen is hardly enough to confirm a discovery, so they decided to wait until they found another specimen. That took five years, because the lizards come from a region of Ecuador that isn’t considered safe for scientists to conduct field research.
“These guys are usually more abundant. The reason we didn’t find more is that we didn’t actually look,” Torres-Carvajal explained.
“We just were too scared to go and look for more.”
“This Is Something New”
Then in 2014, field researchers working along the border of Ecuador and Peru found a large group of wood lizards with distinctly white throats.
The lizards also had spiked scales and dark spots scattered all over their bodies, in combinations that differ from those in related species.
“I’m looking at them saying, ‘This is something new, because it has a combination of traits that I’ve never seen before.’ It was almost immediate—immediate and very exciting,” he said of their identification.
Taxonomist Pablo Venegas, who consults with the Ecuadoran museum but is based at the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity in Lima, Peru, recognized the white throat scales from wood lizards he had first seen in northern Peru in 2003 and again in 2008.
DNA testing proved the 2003, 2008, and 2014 specimens belonged to the same species, which was dubbed E. anisolepis. (Also see “Pictures: Peru Park Boasts Highest Diversity of Amphibians and Reptiles.”)
As they continued examining other lizards Venegas had collected, the international team recognized a third new species, E. sophiarothschildae.
This reptile also has a white throat, as well as a splash of black and turquoise scales.
That’s not the end of the story. Torres-Carvajal predicts that in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, many more mini-dragons are waiting in the wings.