Thursday, May 31, 2012
Big, Rare, and New to Science
It’s hard to find even a tiny bit of the earth that hasn’t been mapped and explored. Aside from the deep sea, people live and work pretty much everywhere. So how can it be that so many large animals are still being discovered? I recently wrote here about a new species of snub-nosed monkey. Now I’d like to introduce you to an impressive creature from the Philippines, the recently named Northern Sierra Madre forest monitor lizard (Varanus bitatawa).
Amazingly, this six foot long strikingly colored reptile was only “discovered” three years ago. It had, of course, always been known to the people living on Luzon Island where it’s found. But despite the large number of biologists working in the Philippines it had somehow escaped the notice of the wider world until the 21st century.
Photo credit: Discovery News
Part of this is the fact that it’s a very, very shy lizard. And part of it is the fact that it lives high in the treetops, seldom venturing to the ground and never crossing open country. This is relatively rare behavior for such a large monitor. Most of its cousins (the most famous of which is the Komodo dragon) chase down prey or sit and wait for it to walk by. This is hard to do high up in the canopy since most of the prey species there have the ability to fly, something that very few lizards possess.
This monitor gets around that problem by stalking fruit instead, making it one of only three species of these big lizards who are confirmed frugivores. This type of diet also makes it important to its ecosystem since it’s fulfilling a role of played by toucans and tapirs in other parts of the world: spreading seeds far and wide as it digests its meal.
Sadly, one reason so many new animals are being catalogued is loss of habitat. Many of them live deep in remote forests. But no forest is now so remote that it is immune to logging and hunting. Like the snub-nosed monkey, the Northern Sierra Madre forest lizard was first noticed by a biologist who saw a strange carcass for sale. The lizard had been caught in a snare meant for a wild pig, but such snares are indiscriminate.
Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times
The good news is that finding such unexpected and charismatic species funnels much needed interest and money to conserving their homes. This benefits all of the animals that share the forest, since big lizards need big areas in which to live.
The world is a strange and wonderful place, full of unexpected life. What else might be waiting to be discovered if we take the time to protect our wild areas instead of logging them ?
Posted by Brizel Handcrafts on Thursday, May 31, 2012