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New monitor lizard species 'discovered in Indonesia'

world Updated: Apr 27, 2010 13:19 IST

Scientists claim to have discovered a new species of monitor lizard, a close relative of the Komodo dragon, 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 4 feet, and feeds on 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," said team leader Professor Sam Sweet of California University.

"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," he said.