New monitor lizard species 'discovered in Indonesia'

New monitor lizard species 'discovered in Indonesia'

An international team has spotted the lizard, called Varanus obor, or the Torch monitor, which has a bright orange head with a glossy black body, in the Moluccan islands of east Indonesia, the 'Zootaxa' journal reported. According to the scientists, the distinctive lizard is a close relative of the fruit-eating monitor lizard recently found in the Philippines -- it can grow to nearly four feet in length, and thrives on a diet of small animals and carrion.

The Torch monitor exists only on the small island of Sanana in the western Moluccan islands. A unique aspect of this geographical region is the lack of mammalian predators, which may have given reptiles the space to evolve as the top terrestrial predators and scavengers. Several million years ago, this island was situated near New Guinea, and it is possible that the lizard lives on as a relic from that period. It is the only black monitor in its lineage, and the only monitor species anywhere that has evolved red pigmentation.

"East of Wallace's Line -- the boundary between Asian and Australian domains -- there are no native carnivorous mammals, and monitor lizards fill that role. "There are more species there, doing more different things ecologically than in Africa or South and Southeast Asia, where competition and predation by mammals tend to keep monitor lizards down. East of Wallace's Line in Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia, monitor lizards are on top of the heap. "It emphasises again how little we know about some tropical regions, to find an animal so strikingly coloured and so large only last year," said team leader Prof Sam Sweet of California University.

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