New species: the Anguilla Bank skink. Photo by: Karl Questal.
In a single paper in Zootaxa scientists have rewritten the current understanding of lizard biodiversity in the Caribbean. By going over museum specimens of skinks, scientists have discovered 24 new species and re-established nine species previously described species, long-thought invalid. The single paper has increased the number of skinks in the Caribbean by 650 percent, from six recognized species to 39. Unfortunately, half of these new species may already be extinct and all of them are likely imperiled.
“Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups,” co-author Blair Hedges with Penn State University said in a press release. Hedges and his team determined the new species through morphological research as well as DNA studies.
But some of the new species may already be gone, while others may not be long for this world due to a single introduced species: the mongoose. Introduced into Caribbean Islands in the 19th Century to prey on rats, mongoose have also decimated many of the islands’ native species including skinks.
“Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now,” Hedges explains, noting that “by 1900, less than 50 percent of [the islands with introduced mongooses] still had their skinks, and the loss has continued to this day.”
While mongoose are the primary problem, deforestation and habitat loss remain problems for skinks and other Caribbean wildlife.
The new skinks had gone unacknowledged for so long because researchers rarely bumped into them due to their scarcity and those that did failed to notice distinguishing characteristics.
“According to our research, all of the skink species found only on Caribbean islands are threatened,” Hedges said. “That is, they should be classified in the Red List as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.”
While nearly all of the world’s mammals, birds, and amphibians have been evaluated by the IUCN Red List, only a third of the world’s reptiles have been evaluated.
New species: a Caicos Islands skink. Photo by: Joseph Burgess.
New species: a Jamaican skink. Photo by: Joseph Burgess.
A graph showing the effect of the mongoose—a predatory mammal introduced by farmers in 1872—on native Caribbean lizards. Credit: Blair Hedges, Penn State University.
(04/25/2012) Few people have ever heard of the Socotra Archipelago even though, biologically-speaking, it is among the world’s most wondrous set of islands. Over one third of Socotra’s plants are found no-where else on Earth, i.e. endemic, while 90 percent of its reptiles are also endemic. Adding to its list of unique life-forms, researchers have recently uncovered a new skink species that is found only on the island of Abd al Kuri, which is slightly smaller than New York City’s Staten Island. Dubbed the “the other Galapagos,” the four Socotra islands are under the jurisdiction of Yemen, although geographically speaking the islands are actually closer to Somalia.
(04/18/2012) Researchers from the Papua New Guinea National Museum and the U.S. Geological Survey have discovered a new species of gecko on an island off the coast of New Guinea.
(02/15/2012) Scientists have discovered four new species of super-tiny chameleons in Madagascar, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The smallest of the new species, Brookesia micra, is found only on the small island of Nosy Hara and has been dubbed the smallest chameleon in the world, measuring from nose to tail 29 millimeters (1.14 inches) at its largest. Scientists believe it represents a notable example of island dwarfism.
(02/13/2012) Researchers have discovered a new species of lizard in the Peruvian Andes, whose males sport beautiful colors, according to a paper in ZooKeys. The highest-dwelling known species of the genus Potamites, the new lizard, dubbed Potamites montanicola, was found in forest streams at 1,500 to 2,000 meters (4,900 to 6,500 feet). The species was discovered as apart of a biodiversity monitoring program by COGA, a Peruvian fossil fuel company.
(01/12/2012) A new study in Biology Letters has found that warmer temperatures may make lizards smarter, even as past studies have linked a global decline in lizards to climate change.
(12/21/2011) Scientists and the public usually rejoice when a new species is discovered. But biologist Bryan Stuart has learned the hard way that the discovery of new species, especially when that species is commercially valuable, has a dark side-one that could potentially wipe out the new species before protections can be put in place. Stuart has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists – so far. That includes 22 species of frogs, three types of snakes, and two salamanders. His experience with one of these, a warty salamander from Laos with striking markings (Laotriton laoensis), opened his eyes to a dark side of scientific discovery: commercial overexploitation before protections are in place. Shortly after Stuart described the previously unknown species Paramesotriton laoensis in a scientific paper published in 2002, commercial dealers began collecting this Lao newt for sale into the pet trade. In essence, the dealers used Stuart’s geographic description in the paper as a “roadmap” to find the rare newt.
(11/10/2011) 40 percent of Madagascar’s terrestrial reptiles are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade, reports the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its latest update of the Red List of Threatened Species.
(07/13/2011) Reptiles have long been thought to be dim-witted, but a new study in Biology Letters finds that the Puerto Rican anole, a type of lizard, can match birds in smarts. Using cognitive tests that have been previously used on birds, researchers with Duke University found that the lizards were capable of solving a problem they’ve never encountered before, remembering the solution in future trials, and even changing techniques when presented with new challenges. In fact, the tiny anoles solved the test with fewer tries than birds. Given reptiles’ reputation of being slow-on-the uptake the head author, Manuel Leal, said the findings are ‘completely unexpected’.