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New Dwarf Dragon Species Discovered in the Andes

Apr 06, 2015 05:27 PM EDT

(Photo : Pablo J. Venegas)

Scientists have recently discovered three new species of dragon-like woodlizards, dubbed "dwarf dragons," in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador.

And despite the fact that they are some of the largest and most colorful lizards in South American forests, until now, their existence had remained a mystery.

The new species were stumbled upon during recent expeditions to the region known as the Tropical Andes, an area rich in biodiversity. After collecting a variety of specimens, DNA evidence suggested they contained three previously undescribed species of woodlizard. These samples were also compared with those from several natural history museums from a variety of countries, further backing up the findings.

In 2006, only six species of woodlizards had been identified. And now, with this new discovery, the number of known woodlizard species has risen to 15.

"During the last few years we doubled the number of known species of woodlizards, showing that the diversity of these conspicuous reptiles had been underestimated," Omar Torres-Carvajal of Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Ecuador, one of the researchers, said in a press release. "That more than half of the diversity of a group of large, dragon-looking reptiles from South America has been discovered in recent years should be heard by people in charge of conservation and funding agencies."

Woodlizards (Enyalioides) are diurnal, and typically live in lowland tropical rainforests, such as the Chocó and western Amazon basin, and in cloud forests on either side of the Andes. They are often described as "dwarf dragons" due to their probing eyes, richly patterned skin and rows of spikelike scales.

According to Live Science, woodlizards grow to be between 3 and 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) long, making them one of the largest lizards in the Amazon rainforest. Despite their large size, their vibrant colors and patterns allow them to blend into the environment.

The three new varieties - called Enyalioides altotambo, Enyalioides anisolepis and Enyalioides sophiarothschildae - differ from their closest relatives in scale arrangement and coloration, as well as their mitochondrial DNA.

This study goes to show that there are many more species on Earth just waiting to be discovered. The newly identified lizards are described in the latest issue of the journal Zookeys.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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