A new species of monitor lizard almost as big as the Komodo dragon was discovered in northern Luzon, Philippines. Learn more about this discovery.
Ever heard of a monitor lizard (local name: bayawak, halo) in the Philippines almost as big as the endangered Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) of Indonesia? After DNA analysis was conducted, Filipino researchers from the National Museum and American researchers from the University of Kansas concluded that the monitor lizard Varanus bitatawa is a new species.
The analysis showed that the new lizard and its closest relative, Gray's monitor lizard, are quite different from each other. The new lizard lives in the northern end of Luzon while the latter can be found on the southern end of Luzon. Both are fruit-eaters, unlike the Komodo Dragon which is carnivorous and cannibalistic.
In 2001, local researchers saw local Agta tribesmen in the Sierra Madre mountains in the northern portion of Luzon carrying a large, dead monitor lizard. The lizard has a golden-spotted skin and looks unusual than commonly encountered. A photograph was taken but nobody attempted a scientific identification. It was 6.5 feet long.
According to Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas, the brightly colored forest monitor lizard can grow to more than six feet in length but weigh only about 22 pounds (10 kg) because of its slim body. This is unlike the stockier Komodo dragon which can grow up to 10 feet and weigh 200 pounds. Further, the forest monitor lizard has distinctive little horns on the ends of its double-barreled male reproductive organs.
Philippines forest monitor lizard Varanus bitatawa (Image Source)
Indonesia's Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis (Image Source)
Habitat and Biology
The forest monitor lizard lives up in the trees. Because of this behavior, the lizard could not get as massive as the Komodo dragon which eats a large amount of fresh meat. As previously mentioned, it is a fruit eater. The lizard apparently prefers the fruits of pandanus trees as evidenced by claw-scratches on these trees. Aside from this, however, they also feed on snails.
The lizards are extremely secretive and wary, the reason why it is difficult to see them by casual observation. This may be because they have been hunted for their tasty meat and would have adopted such behavior to increase their chance at survival. They take refuge in trees which provide them a good hiding place.
Hunted by the Agta and Ilongot peoples living in the forests of Sierra Madre range for its tasty flesh, the forest monitor lizard gradually dropped significantly in numbers. Further, habitat destruction by deforestation and trapping for the pet trade threaten their existence.
Recognizing these threats, there is a need to protect the remaining forest habitat in northern Luzon to sustain the population of this apparently endangered species. Policy makers, both local and national, together with scientists can help ensure the sustainability of the bayawak, a unique species.
Gomez, J., 2010. Giant Lizard Discovered in the Philippines. Retrieved on May 10, 2010 at http://www.newsfactor.com/news/Giant-Lizard-Found-in-the-Philippines/story.xhtml?story_id=0100000U78LO.
Honolulu Zoo, 2010. Komodo dragon. Retrieved on May 10, 2010 at http://www.honoluluzoo.org/komodo_dragon.htm.
Maler, S., 2010. A dragon-sized, fruit-eating lizard that lives in the trees on the northern Philippines island of Luzon has been confirmed as a new species, scientists reported on Tuesday. Retrieved on May 10, 2010 at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6355L920100406.
Milius, S., 2010. New Giant Lizard Discovered in the Philippines. Retrieve on May 10, 2010 at http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/04/giant-lizard/.