A new species of monitor lizard closely related to the Komodo dragon has been discovered by German scientists in Indonesia.
The discovery was made after close examination of the new specimen using morphological characteristics and DNA analysis. Taxonomically classified as Varanus lirungensis, the new species “illustrates the high diversity of monitor lizards in Indonesia,” according to André Koch, who found the lizard.
Varanus lirungensis is described in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Zoology. Discovered on the Talaud Islands, a small Indonesian archipelago, the new species is carnivorous like all other monitor lizards, and it is closely related to the giant Komodo dragon and the crocodile monitor. Researchers were surprised by the discovery, since they had originally arrived to study another species of monitor, the Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator).
The find should help to fill in some crucial gaps of knowledge about how flora and fauna migrated and diverged throughout the Southeast Asian islands, which are home to some of the world’s richest biodiversity.
Researchers warn, however, that the discovery could come as a mixed blessing. “As monitor lizards are exploited for the international trade in live animals and reptile leather, small island populations could soon be eliminated” explained Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wägele. In other words, poachers and traders could target the new species because of its status as an unknown species, which can mark up its value. Yet at the same time, new species like Varanus lirungensis can only be protected if they are identified and studied.
Sure, Varanus lirungensis doesn’t have wings and spit fire, and it may not be a dragon per se, but this fierce little lizard still conjures up traits of its larger dragon-like cousins. Who’s to say it can’t be the stuff of reptilian legend?
Related: Missing link or natural selection - new dragon - varanus lirungensis discovered in Indonesia