The discovery of woodlizard species has exploded in recent years. It’s discovery rate over the past 10 years is one of the highest in all South America lizard groups. Which is a bit surprising, considering the lizards are some of the largest and most colorful in South American tropical forests. But, vast chunks of these areas have barely been explored by researchers.
The Tropical Andes is one of the most diverse places on Earth.
How diverse are we talking? Nearly 45,000 plant species are located in the area. 20,000 of these are only found in the Tropical Andes. Nearly 500 individual reptile species are located in the area, along with 1,666 bird species and 830 amphibian species. A sizable portion of these are exclusive to the area.
It’s not just the animal and plant life that’s diverse. It’s also the terrain. Everything from tropical rain forests to cloud forests, grasslands and snow can be seen across the vast area. Here’s what a cloud forest looks like. Imagine a forest with near constant fog and 100% humidity.
New expeditions into these remote areas collected several specimens of woodlizards. Once the authors of the study started comparing them to specimens in natural history museums, they started to believe they found something new.
Final confirmation of the new species came once they analyzed the DNA. These three new species sport different scale features, coloration and DNA compared to their closest relatives.
Back in 2006, just seven species of woodlizards had been discovered.
“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. 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,” said Dr. Torres-Carvajal, one of the authors of the new study.