24 species of endangered lizards discovered
American researchers have identified two dozen new species of lizards on the Caribbean islands, and about half of them may be extinct or near extinction.
Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State University, led the study in the New Zealand journal Zootaxa which was published on Monday and co-authored by Caitlin Conn, a researcher at the University of Georgia.
Skinks typically have small, round, smooth scales, thick bodies, strong necks, and short legs or snake-like bodies. The team identified 39 types of skinks – six of which were previously recognized and nine named long ago but considered invalid until now – by examining museum specimens, DNA sequences and the animals themselves.
The discovery of new reptile species is relatively common, with around 130 species added to the global species count each year, but the authors note that researchers have not identified more than 20 species at a time since the 1800s.
The Lizards will join an unattractive club, however. Of more than 3,000 reptiles listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, skinks are likely to join the quarter listed as threatened with extinction.
“The mongoose is the predator we believe is responsible for the near extinction of the species in the Caribbean,” Hedges said, adding that the mongoose was introduced from India in 1872 to control rats in fields. of sugar cane.
Mongooses have been spreading across the islands for decades and, according to Hedges, have “almost wiped out all of that reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now.”
Skinks produce a human-like placenta and offspring for up to a year, which makes them unique among lizards, but can also make pregnant females more vulnerable to predators.
New data could guide conservation efforts
Hedges and Conn added that human activity, particularly the removal of forests, is also contributing to the decline of many island species.
The new data can help guide conservation efforts, as well as other research into the lizards’ geographic distribution and adaptive techniques.
“We were completely surprised to find what amounts to new fauna, with coexisting species and different ecological types,” Hedges said.
“Now one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has grown into one of the largest groups.”