LIMA, Peru — A new species of lizard has been discovered living in a remote area once controlled by drug cartels and terrorists. The dragon-like reptile had crept under the radar until now because it was too dangerous for scientists to reach the zone.
The species was found in the Andes of central Peru, near the Huallaga River, which extends for 707 miles (1,138km). The zone feeds into the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon. The river’s basin harbors a great variety of ecosystems, including a region called Yunga, an oasis for native birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
But the tropical region was a hot-spot for civil war, terrorist organizations and drug trafficking during the 1980s and so few scientists were able to visit. Now scientists in Peru have discovered the new species of wood lizard after spending seven years surveying the area.
“It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and that’s when, little by little, some biologists began to venture back to the Huallaga Valley,” according to a media release on the study, led by study author Dr. Pablo Venegas, of Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad in Peru. “However, forest destruction by coca plantations during the internal war, which eventually led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, left the Huallaga valley highly fragmented, making for an even more urgent need for biodiversity research in the area.”
During the study, the researchers patrolled the forest, picking up lizards by hand which were sleeping on bushes 20 to 150 centimeters (eight to 60 inches) off the ground. The cold-blooded reptiles come in a “stunning variety” of colours, especially males, which can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines.
Females tend to be more somber, having greenish or floury browns, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on their sides.
“E. feiruzae might have established as a separate species after it got geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly as a result from tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to the Early Miocene,” according to the study release.
The new species was named a female green iguana, which belonged to Catherine Thomson, who supported the research.. Their natural habitat is very fragmented by croplands and pastures for cattle ranching.
At present, only one protected population was found in the Tingo Maria National Park.
The findings are published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.
South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.