KU News Release

April 7, 2010
Contact: Jen Humphrey, Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, (785) 864-2344

KU researchers help discover giant fruit-eating lizard in the Philippines

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers are among a team of international scientists that has discovered and documented a new species of monitor lizard in the Philippines that can grow up to 2 meters long.

The Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor displays bright yellow and black stripes and spots across its back and eats mainly fruit and snails.

Through the analysis of its physical features and its DNA, scientists have determined that the new species is distinct from other similar species. It spends most of its time in trees in the forests of the Northern Sierra Madre mountain range of Luzon.

Although the species had been seen as early as 2001, it was only last year that a joint KU-National Museum of the Philippines expedition to Aurora Province yielded a large, adult specimen and good DNA samples. The scientific description of the reptile has been published this week in Biology Letters, an international journal published by the Royal Society of London.

Luke Welton, a KU graduate student and one of the coauthors of the scientific description, was one of the first biologists to see a living Northern Sierra Madre Monitor Lizard in Aurora Province.

“I knew as soon as I saw the animal that it was something special,” says Welton. “I had seen specimens of the other two species of fruit-eating monitors, but neither of the other known species are nearly as spectacular as the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor.”

Giant fruit-eating monitor lizards are found only in the Philippines. It is one of three giant fruit-eating monitor lizard species that are threatened by destruction of their forest habitats and, to a lesser degree, by hunting for their meat and the pet trade.

“We hope that by focusing on protection of this new monitor, conservation biologists and policy makers can work together to protect the remaining highly imperiled forests of northern Luzon” said Rafe Brown, assistant professor of biology at KU and curator of the Herpetology Division at the KU Biodiversity Institute.

“The new species can serve as a convenient ‘Flagship Species’ for conservation, focusing the attention of the public and affording protection to many unrelated species if its habitat is preserved,” said Brown, who led the research team that discovered the new species.

Brown also said that it was extremely rare to discover a new, large vertebrate species.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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